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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 101

Mr TAYLOR (Hume) (16:34): I rise to speak on the Biosecurity Bill 2014 in this cognate debate. It is intended to ensure that we continue to provide a strong regulatory framework to manage biosecurity risks here in Australia, both now and into the future.

This bill, if enacted, will provide the legislative means to manage the risk of pests and diseases entering Australian territory—an island nation, which has of course been extremely good in our history at managing these biosecurity risks. Of course, these risks cause harm—or, at least, have the potential to cause harm—to animals, plants, humans, the environment and the economy. The bill will also support access to fast-growing export markets which are sensitive to biosecurity risks. This is increasingly important as we as a government work to reduce trade barriers through our various free trade agreements which, as farmers in my electorate know, are an extraordinary opportunity for Australia and for Australian farmers. We must remember that we cannot allow tariff barriers to be replaced with nontariff barriers through concerns about biosecurity.

This legislation has been developed over many years. There has been significant consultation with industry, state and territory governments, environment groups, health professionals, the general public and our trading partners for those all-important export markets I mentioned earlier. Indeed, over 440 organisations have been consulted over the past six years in reference to these changes. Those consulted include organisations that would be regulated by the legislation, such as shipping, petroleum, logistics and research organisations, and those who have an interest, such as the environment groups, as I said before, and farmers.

I will speak a little later about agriculture, but I said earlier that one of the focuses here is risk to human health. When we think of biosecurity, most Australians will think immediately of the catastrophe of Ebola and the extraordinary suffering of the West African people. In August of last year the World Health Organization declared the Ebola virus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. The Australian Department of Health confirmed widespread and intense transmission continuing in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Of course, the situation deteriorated and by October last year there were 9,000 clinically compatible cases reported in West Africa, and 4,500 people had tragically died. Health authorities are closely monitoring the outbreak overseas, and our border protection agencies are alert to watch for people who are unwell in the air and at airports. All airport border agencies have been provided guidance by the Department of Health to identify passengers who present Ebola-like symptoms in flights or at airports. The health of people who have originated their travel from affected parts of West Africa is being closely checked. It is a quarantinable disease in Australia and it can be controlled and eradicated through a range of quarantine measures.

In another recent example of risk to human health, the outbreak of avian flu, or bird flu, in Asia resulted in 121 deaths across mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Malaysia.

Biosecurity risks are ever present—as we see with those examples—and that is why vigilance, through appropriate legislation, is absolutely paramount. It is well known that we lead the world on biosecurity. Our reputation as a clean, disease-free, pest-free island nation is built on scrupulous standards. Being an island nation, diseases prevalent elsewhere have been prevented here for many years, and this must continue for our human health, our animal health and our export industries.

Australia works across the full continuum of quarantine with pre-border, border and post-border measures. Surveillance and monitoring of risk areas is critical, along with border control activities which focus on intercepting and quarantining potential threats. Our quarantine laws require that the captain of an international aircraft or vessel must report any passengers or crew who display certain symptoms—as I said earlier, with the illustration of Ebola—and who are ill with particular quarantinable diseases. Our strict laws extend to the importation of certain goods, and that ensures that the biosecurity risk to Australia's agricultural industries and the risk to our unique environment is minimised. As many of us know, when you return home from overseas travel—and I have done this many times—there is a long list you have to declare on arrival: food, dairy, egg products, meat, poultry, seafood, seeds, nuts, fruit and veg, plants, animals and animal products. When you declare these items, they are checked by a department of agriculture officer, who will determine whether they are allowed into Australia.

The bill before the House is designed to better manage those public health risks posed by serious communicable diseases I have outlined and to align our measures with modern science. It contains human health biosecurity measures, which can be not only used to address the risk posed by the disease but also tailored to accommodate an individual's circumstances, and to ensure at the same time that individual liberties are considered and protected.

Quarantining in the early days of our colonial history was strict and resolute, and this goes right back deep into the early days of our European history, where quarantine and biosecurity management was extraordinarily important to our success as a country. The quarantine stations on the Australian mainland have been standing since the 1830s, and they were there as a first line of defence against highly contagious diseases. North Head quarantine station in Sydney was the first safe anchorage point inside the Heads to off-load passengers and crew into New South Wales who were contaminated or suspected of contamination. The site was sufficiently isolated and judged to be a safe distance from the centre of Sydney, with natural spring water to ensure that there was good, reliable, drinkable water. After an average of 40 days, most passengers were released to settle as Australian residents. For smallpox, the period of quarantine was 18 days, and seven days for yellow fever, plague or cholera.

Given how important immigration was to the history and fabric of this nation, that process was extremely important. The University of Sydney academic, Alison Bashford, wrote in 2004:

… the Quarantine Act of 1908 defined quarantinable disease as small pox, plague, cholera, yellow fever, typhus fever, or leprosy. In 1927, encephalitis and mumps were added. Dengue fever was added in 1935 and influenza in 1951.

The act required the master of any vessel to notify authorities of an outbreak of disease—just as much as we need to today—and any disease which included 'fever or glandular swellings, or any disease suspected to be a quarantinable disease'. Ms Bashford continues:

…from 1947, a person who could not satisfy a quarantine officer that he or she had been successfully vaccinated could be quarantined. There were actual bodily inspections to determine whether passengers had a vaccine scar, from the smallpox vaccine. You could only move from what was understood to be an infected zone into a healthy zone if you had a vaccination scar.

Those stations evolved over 150 years, growing during periods of infectious disease and shrinking during periods of general population health. There is an extraordinary history, one which has been important to the foundation of Australia as a nation. The Biosecurity Bill 2014 is a modern and effective regulatory framework built on the learnings and experiences of hundreds of years of immigration in this country.

I want to turn now to agriculture—having talked much about human health—and the extraordinary importance of biosecurity in agriculture. It sounds like an esoteric topic, but it is far more important to the future of this nation than is widely understood. As I said many times in this House and many times before I came to this House, one of the extraordinary opportunities we face as the mining boom comes off and the mining investment boom slows is in exports of agricultural products. I have spent much of my career identifying and helping organisations into these markets, and I have never seen opportunities like we are seeing at the moment.

Indeed, farmers in my electorate will know what an extraordinary increase in beef prices we saw in the lead-up to and following Christmas this year—an incredible tribute to the work that has been done by this government in reopening the live export trade, to the work that has been done by this government in entering into these free trade agreements, for which beef is absolutely central. It is a very tangible example that every farmer in my electorate—most of them do produce some beef—understands and sees as an illustration of extraordinarily good government.

New powers within this bill allow for the management of a wider range of pests and diseases already present in Australia and for the management of the biosecurity risk posed by the ballast water and sediment held on board domestic and international ships. The reality is that, if we are not able to demonstrate to countries we export into that we are disease free in these critical exports like beef, we will lose those markets. You only have to look at what has happened to the South American exports of beef because of foot-and-mouth disease to understand what an extraordinary impact failure to manage biosecurity risks would have on our exports and our prosperity. The legislation has been designed to support Australia's export markets by sustaining current market access and, most importantly, by ensuring that tariff market barriers which are coming down now with these free trade agreements are not replaced by non-tariff barriers.

I want to focus on one industry in particular. It is very important to many of my constituents around the Young region. That is the cherry industry. Improved biosecurity measures for the export of cherries have the potential to support doubling of exports alongside our free trade agreements from 25 per cent of all cherries produced to 50 per cent of our total national production. That of course will increase the revenues per kilogram of cherries exported and will also provide the foundation for growth of this all-important industry in my electorate. Exporting cherries is a specialised market requiring attention to detail and cultural sensitivities, biosecurity, packaging, market access and entry and transportation. Cherry Growers Australia are engaging in their own biosecurity protocols—a self-regulated biosecurity management programme—to provide full confidence to all international markets that Australian cherries are not only free from disease and pests but are also of absolutely exceptional quality. Their plan is to take a holistic approach; it combines control measures and checkpoints for ensuring cherries are free from pests, and the plan supports expanding market access for cherries regardless of the growing region in which they are produced. We have a growing season which extends across our summer, which fits a gap in the market because there are not other Southern Hemisphere producers who can provide cherries into that window.

The majority of concern revolves around Queensland fruit fly and Mediterranean fruit fly. Within the Australian cherry industry, the programme that I have talked about has the endorsement of all growers and exporters as the direction required to achieve and increase in exports of the magnitude I have already talked about and also to allow an increase in air freight access as a priority for all importing markets. One of the things we can do that other countries cannot is export fresh cherries on aeroplanes up into these fast-growing Asian markets.

The Australian government's activities in managing fruit fly are focused on regulating the Australian border and managing the risk of exotic fruit flies entering and establishing themselves. We are also involved in fruit fly surveying and response activities in Northern Australia through the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy, in the Torres Strait through the Torres Strait Fruit Fly Strategy and in Australia's near neighbours through the International Plant Health Program. These programs are delivered in partnerships with state, Australian government and international agencies.

Fruit flies are a global agricultural issue with all regions of the world having different native fruit fly species; these different pest species can and do invade other regions. For Australia, the threat of offshore pests entering and establishing is substantial.

Human health is paramount to our success as a country, but agricultural opportunities are paramount to our future. This bill will provide the support we need to manage biosecurity risks in this country.