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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 143

Mr BALDWIN (PatersonParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) (19:46): I would like to start by thanking all of the members for their contributions to this very important debate. Australia has a world-class biosecurity system. This system helps to preserve Australia's unique pest and disease status, and protect our environment, human health and the wellbeing of our domestic animals, plants and our way of life. Our biosecurity system must be underpinned by a modern and effective regulatory framework. The legislation that has enabled us to do this, the Quarantine Act, has been amended no less than 50 times over the past 106 years. While this legislation has served us well in the past, it has become cumbersome to administer, difficult to interpret and incompatible with our business and risk management needs.

The Biosecurity Bill 2014 and the four companion bills—the Biosecurity (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014, the Quarantine Charges (Imposition—General) Amendment Bill 2014, the Quarantine Charges (Imposition—Customs) Amendment Bill 2014 and the Quarantine Charges (Imposition—Excise) Amendment Bill 2014—are a collaboration between agriculture and health portfolios and will be jointly administered by them. The bill provides a new regulatory framework that supports the biosecurity system now and into the future, allowing biosecurity risks to be managed by both portfolios in a modern and responsive manner. This legislation will support the competitiveness and productivity of the agricultural sector, a key undertaking of this government.

Australia is free of many pests and diseases that are common around the world. This allows our farmers to produce higher quality products and increase the demand for those products. The Biosecurity Bill will help maintain Australia's enviable pest and disease status, which is essential for Australian farmers to maintain access to overseas markets and build on our position as an exporter of the highest quality agricultural goods. In 2013-14, the total gross value of agricultural production was $53 billion. The Biosecurity Bill will help protect Australia's environment from costly incursions by introducing a strong legislative framework that allows biosecurity risks to be managed more effectively. The Biosecurity Bill will also reduce red tape for the thousands of compliant businesses that regularly interact with the biosecurity system. It is estimated the cost to businesses will be reduced by $6.9 million a year because of the clearer, easier to use legislation and the improved processes it will enable. Finally, the Biosecurity Bill will provide the Commonwealth with the right tools to manage biosecurity threats, including health risks to the Australian population from serious communicable diseases. This has been particularly highlighted by the recent announcement by the WHO about polio and the Ebola virus disease as being public health emergencies of international concern.

The member for Hunter raised a number of concerns regarding the Inspector-General of Biosecurity. The minister has advised that I can assure the member that the Inspector-General of Biosecurity position will be maintained under the current Inspector-General of Biosecurity arrangements, which is an administrative position. This does not diminish the importance of this key position; it just means that, consistent with the government's regulatory policy, an additional piece of legislation will not be created to establish this position. The ministerial review powers under the bill will be delegated and made available to the Inspector-General of Biosecurity to review the performance of functions of the excise of powers by biosecurity officials under one or more provisions of the bill. The minister will also have the flexibility to consider other individuals with differing expertise to conduct the review and select the right person, the person most suited to carry out the review.

The member raised concerns regarding the funding of the Inspector-General of Biosecurity. Again, the minister has said that I can assure the member that this funding is secure. The Inspector-General of Biosecurity is funded by departmental funding, and this position will continue to be funded. The current interim Inspector-General of Biosecurity's term ends on 30 June 2015. However, again, the minister has advised me that I can assure the member that the position and its funding will continue.

There are some things that are critical to this position. The Inspector-General of Biosecurity will continue to be independent by reporting to the Minister for Agriculture directly, and transparent by making their recommendations public. The current Interim Inspector-General of Biosecurity, Dr Michael Bond, has proven that this role can operate administratively with a high level of independence and transparency.

The Biosecurity Bill directly addresses this government's commitment to improving Australia's already world-class biosecurity system. For Australian farmers , it means that crops will be safer from exotic pests and livestock better protected from diseases such as foot-and-mouth. For the Australian economy it means increased capacity for sustained domestic production and international exports from a competitive and profitable agriculture sector. For the Australian community more broadly it means that everyone can continue to have confidence in the biosecurity system that protects our very way of life. I commend these bills to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.