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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 133


Mr PASIN (Barker) (18:58): I rise today to speak on the Biosecurity Bill 2014 and associated legislation. The bill is supported by four other bills that are designed to help ensure the smooth transition from the Quarantine Act 1908 to the enactment of the bill. Australia's world-class biosecurity system relies on a legislative framework that was designed more than 100 years ago. It is time to update it to match the changing global environment. When the Quarantine Act 1908 was written, people and goods arrived only by sea, and biosecurity threats included diseases like the bubonic plague, leprosy, yellow fever and smallpox.

As a member for an electorate whose economic wellbeing is inextricably linked to the biosecurity of our agricultural sector, I consider this raft of legislation to be fundamental to the people in business in my electorate. Representing the leading wine-, citrus-, potato-, rock-lobster-, nut-, cattle- and sheep-producing regions in South Australia and arguably the country, I believe that strengthening the biosecurity of these sectors is an essential innovation to enhance our continued prosperity, both within my electorate and for our nation's export driven advances into new markets.

It is a nice segue, given that I am joined in the chamber by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, who accompanied me through my electorate, so you can take his word for what my constituents do and the great products they produce—not that we consumed all of it! We had a fair go, whether wine, beer—

Mr Baldwin: My wine!

Mr PASIN: I know; it is coming; don't worry! I am being chimed, of course, because the parliamentary secretary was expecting a bottle of the famous Hill of Grace, which of course is a product of the Henschke family. It will arrive.

Mr Baldwin interjecting

Mr PASIN: It does not come from the Hunter Valley, thankfully; it comes from the good people in the Barossa. But it will arrive.

Since coming to office, of course, the coalition has concluded three crucial free trade agreements with Japan, Korea and, most recently, China. Part of the rationale for these countries wanting to have greater access to our produce is the biosecurity of our exports. Australia's biosecurity regime has been successful in keeping some of the diseases and threats that have affected particularly European countries from insidiously entering our country. This biosecurity is bolstered by the knowledge that our natural water resource, land management and air quality practices add yet another layer of protection to our food production.

It is also true that our biosecurity faces threats, some of which are malicious and designed to potentially serve political ends. The threat of transnational terrorism and attempts to threaten our food supply weaken our claim to have a secure quarantine regime and mean that we must undertake improvements to legislation and regulations that will meet the needs of the 21st century threat environment we now face. Simply being an island nation is no longer sufficient to guarantee the biosecurity of our agricultural sector—though I must say that it would be better than being an island state. The world has changed and will continue to change. The legislation we are debating today is designed to flexibly support Australia's biosecurity system in any age, regardless of future challenges, including advances in transport and technology.

For example, the bill provides a range of enforcement powers rather than relying, as the Quarantine Act did, on criminal penalties. Biosecurity risks can be complex and so can our biosecurity requirements. Not everyone who breaches the rules will have understood them or have done so deliberately, so it is appropriate that we have a range of enforcement powers. In this bill, we have criminal penalties that allow us to respond to those who would deliberately do the wrong thing, as well as other powers to proportionately respond to those who inadvertently do the wrong thing.

This legislation will cut unnecessary red tape by reducing compliance costs on business by nearly $7 million a year. As we continue to strengthen biosecurity management, the bill will provide national capability to respond to pest and disease incursions within Australia, including, of course, the important marine environment.

The bill will be broadly broken up into three categories. Firstly, we have operational chapters that support daily biosecurity business such as assessing and managing biosecurity risk in relation to goods, transport and technologies. There will then be stand-alone chapters that support specialised biosecurity situations such as the management of human health and ballast water, emergency responses and, of course, the important partnerships with business. Administrative chapters that apply across the entire bill are designed to provide a framework for the smooth administration of the biosecurity system, such as compliance and, importantly, enforcement.

Agriculture—as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Whiteley—is a key pillar of the Australian economy. It must be supported by a strong and robust biosecurity system. Any adverse changes to our world-class biosecurity status would have a direct impact on domestic productivity, farm-gate returns and export opportunities. This legislation, jointly undertaken by the Agriculture and Health portfolios, will underpin a strong and seamless biosecurity system to cover human, environmental, plant and animal health. This bill will also allow our systems to get smarter, our penalties to be fairer and our people to work where the risk is greatest.

A number of significant reviews of the biosecurity system, most recently the review of Australia's quarantine and biosecurity, the Beale review, have outlined opportunities to improve the system, including the development of new legislation. The review concluded that Australia's biosecurity system is good, often the envy of other countries, but far from perfect. It recommended significant changes to improve the system's ability to deal with changing and increasing biosecurity risks. The changes of course include improved partnerships with the state and territory governments and with industry; enhanced government structures, including an independent commission to assess the biosecurity risks of imports; a national authority to undertake biosecurity operations and an inspector-general of biosecurity to audit the authority's work; a risk-returns approach to biosecurity's operational activities; new biosecurity legislation to replace the Quarantine Act 1908; and more funding for biosecurity activities and upgraded information technology systems.

This legislation has been developed over many years, with significant consultation undertaken with industry, state and territory governments, environmental groups, health professionals and the public at large, as well as trading partners. A robust biosecurity system is important in supporting Australia to remain free of many pests and diseases that are common around the world. We have to get biosecurity right because the stakes are high, and getting it right benefits everyone. It is a big job, and we use science to help us make the right decisions at the right time to get the best results.

As well as playing an obvious role protecting Australia's environment and way of life, safeguarding Australia from unwanted biosecurity risks also protects Australia's economy. This helps maintain our reputation as a producer of high-quality and safe agricultural products for the world. The Biosecurity Bill and supporting legislation have been designed to support the biosecurity system in any age, regardless of advances in transport, technology or future challenges. Just as with the Quarantine Act 1908, the biosecurity legislation, if passed, would be co-administered by the ministers responsible for agriculture and health.

The Biosecurity (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014 is the first companion bill to the Biosecurity Bill 2014. It will facilitate the transition from the Quarantine Act to the Biosecurity Act. This bill makes consequential amendments to a range of Commonwealth legislation to reflect the broad scope of managing biosecurity risk. It will also replace references to the Quarantine Act with, necessarily, the Biosecurity Act. Biosecurity is wide reaching and impacts air travel, shipping and fisheries amongst other matters with the result that over 20 pieces of Commonwealth legislation will require some minor amendments.

The bill will repeal the Quarantine Act and the Quarantine Charges (Collection) Act 2014. Most importantly, it will allow the Department of Agriculture to provide a smooth transition from the old legislation to the new regulatory framework. The bill will do this by ensuring that biosecurity risks managed under the Quarantine Act will continue to be managed following its repeal. For example, if a person is directed not to move a good under the Quarantine Act, that direction will still be valid under the Biosecurity Act. If an import permit application is made under the Quarantine Act, it is taken to have been made under the Biosecurity Act. In some key areas, such as approved industry partnerships, the transition will take place over a longer period of time so business has more time to be compliant with the new regulations, and both business and the department can better manage the volume of work associated with change.

Three charging bills are being introduced as part of the Biosecurity Bill package. These will allow the Commonwealth to impose charges that appropriately reflect the cost of administering the Biosecurity Act now and into the future. The charging bills do not set the amount of the charge and do not apply any financial impacts on business. The charges, and who is liable and exempt from paying these charges, will be set in delegated legislation.

The first charging bill, the Quarantine Charges (Imposition—General) Amendment Bill 2014, will amend the Quarantine Charges (Imposition—General) Act 2014. This bill continues current cost recovery arrangements to enable effective management of biosecurity risks through the Biosecurity Bill. The bill will allow the Commonwealth to continue imposing suitable charges for activities and services relating to the administration of Australia's biosecurity system, including scientific analysis, intelligence, inspections and surveillance. This enables the Commonwealth to support and administer a robust, efficient biosecurity system where the appropriate responsibility for costs associated with the system lies with those who pose the highest risk to our biosecurity status. The charges will reflect the costs of providing services, ensuring that the department is sufficiently resourced to continue the critical job of protecting Australia's unique animal and plant health status.

The coalition treats this nation's biosecurity with the utmost seriousness, because it affects not only the wellbeing of our own people but also the wellbeing of people around the globe—the people who consume our high-value produce. That is why it is so important for our country, and for my electorate in particular, that this legislation pass. That is why I commend this package of bills to the House.