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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 96


Dr GILLESPIE (Lyne) (16:08): The legislation currently governing biosecurity, the Quarantine Act, was enacted in 1908. At that stage Australia had only five million people and two passports. The goods arrived under steam, or still occasionally under sail, and the Wright brothers had only flown a plane five years earlier. Now we have 17 million passengers arriving by plane each year and we have supertankers and container ships arriving daily carrying massive volumes of commodities and goods. We have A380s arriving with freight in their cargo bays. Trade has taken off around the world, to Australia and from Australia, as a result of the world's population explosion.

The Quarantine Act has been amended on 50 different occasions since 1908, so it is not unreasonable at all that we have up-to-date and modernised legislation fit for purpose. As the member for Hunter outlined, the purpose of this biosecurity and quarantine legislation is to maintain the security of our $35 billion a year exports in the agricultural and horticultural sector, and to protect the growth of that sector. We have a massive industry in exporting commodities because of our clean and green brand, which is as a result of our disease and pest free status. That has been generated not just by our geographical isolation but also by our quality production methods and agricultural practices. To maintain a our nation's biosecurity in the face of massive volumes as a result of the marked increase in trade, in trading partners and product, we physically need to get our act together. There is no way we as a nation can check every single container or every bag of produce that comes through our ports or airports. We need to have a process that will isolate high risk areas. We need to be worried about noxious weeds, about beetles in wood, fruit fly, fire ants and fire blight. We do not want to put at risk our disease free and pest free, clean and green, image. Fire ants alone could damage $8.9 billion worth of product over the next 30 years. Our remaining fruit industry and horticulture would be at risk if fire blight ever took root here. Our marine industry and fisheries, which produce $2.5 billion worth of product, is at risk. Our biosecurity processes have moved towards an extensive import risk analysis process, and, in essence, the higher the risk and the higher the bar, the greater the monitoring and analysis that is required. Then we direct our biosecurity interventions towards those high risk areas.

As the member for Hunter outlined, the Biosecurity Bill was introduced into the parliament in 2012 but it has languished in the wings of the legislative process for too long. I am pleased to see it has finally come before the House. It has been through the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee, it has had the Beale review and there has been an enormous input from forums. There was a legislative forum in 2014. It has been to every state and territory government, to primary producers, to over 440 organisations, and to importers and exporters. It has been reviewed by our international trading partners to ensure that we can still manage to export and that we meet our requirements under various trade agreements. All those obligations have been addressed. The legislative forum in October 2014 was extremely well attended and there were voices from all stakeholders. As I mentioned, the Biosecurity Bill 2014, the Biosecurity (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill and the associated companion bills replace the 1908 bill. The charges levied by these bills will now be collected under this umbrella bill.

The member for Hunter spoke about a few issues that he was concerned about. I point out to the House that the Inspector-General of Biosecurity will still be created, but through this legislation under delegation from the minister, not by way of its own stand-alone bill. The main thing is that we have an inspector-general, that the inspection goes on and that the risk process is thorough and exhaustive.

There was concern about the inadequacy of warrants, but the biosecurity enforcement officers will still have multiple warrant provisions to do their jobs. I will just list some of them. There is a monitoring warrant; an investigation warrant; a biosecurity risk assessment warrant; warrants for response zones and monitoring zones; an adjacent premises warrant; a conveyance possession warrant; and a premises possession warrant. This legislation certainly has a lot of teeth behind it. But, if we are going to protect our pest-and-disease-free status and our clean-and-green image amongst the recipients and consumers of our produce, we need to have a vigorous and effective legislative response.

There are many notices that can be issued—enforcement orders and revocation of licences to import. There is a fit-and-proper test that can be applied by the enforcement officers and by the department. There is an associate test, so that anyone who has been guilty of inadequate biosecurity measures and has fallen foul cannot automatically come in the back door by using an associated person to gain entry. The warrants definitely remain in place. Entering property to check on biosecurity issues is allowed.

There is another matter that I should mention to the House. We are all familiar with the horror and the trauma of the Ebola outbreak in central Africa. There are human biosecurity implications as well, and there are human biosecurity orders that can be issued by the Director of Human Biosecurity that will be created by this legislation, so that, if there is a person at risk, control-and-isolation orders and advice can be given to mitigate and control the risk that is represented by that person. These are all very sensible initiatives, because, in an outbreak, an epidemic, of a disease like Ebola, it is the contact tracing and the isolation that will bring the epidemic to its end more quickly than anything else. These biosecurity orders will be very wisely applied, I am sure.

The other issue that has come up in discussion about this legislation is how we are treating ballast water. As you know, all these freighters that travel around the world have refuse—food product, all sorts of waste—and their ballast water can represent a portal of entry. So there are very exhaustive and prescriptive regulations that are embraced by this legislation that mean all the ballast water is treated by processes and is monitored to reduce the risk to as low as physically possible. This includes pre-arrival reporting by planes and freighters. Forewarned is forearmed, so to speak. The legislation also empowers biosecurity officers to enter receiving installations efficiently and in a timely manner.

The rules in this legislation extend to our 12-mile limit and they extend to our external territories. So we have a new situation in Australia now with this legislation. It will allow an efficient focusing of the biosecurity risk analysis so that the actions can be targeted where the risk is highest. It covers all the concerns that have come through in the most extensive, broadly based canvassing of opinions from all involved parties—importers, exporters, producers, transporters—and it is targeted. I extend my recommendation to the House that this legislation be passed. It is timely, it is appropriate, it is extensive and it is incredibly thorough. I commend these bills to the House.