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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 13425

Mr JOYCE (New EnglandMinister for Agriculture and Deputy Leader of The Nationals) (09:17): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

As you can see from the weight of it, with roughly 650 pages in the bill and 450 pages in the explanatory memorandum, this is a very substantial piece of work and the culmination of over 100 years of experience. Australia has a world-class biosecurity system. The system helps us preserve Australia's unique pest and disease status and protect our environment, human health, the wellbeing of our domestic animals, plants and our way of life.

There is no doubt that all Australians benefit from the system that underpins the security of our agriculture, forestry and fishery industries and enables a competitive advantage in export markets around the world. We have to get biosecurity right, because the stakes are high and getting it right benefits everyone.

The importance of quarantine is highlighted by its inclusion as a head of power in the Australian Constitution. The Commonwealth government is responsible for using this power to ensure Australia is protected from biosecurity risks. It follows that our biosecurity system must be underpinned by a modem and effective regulatory framework. This framework operates to manage the risk of pests and diseases entering Australian territory and causing harm to animal, plant and human health, and the environment and the economy.

The legislation that currently enables us to do this, the Quarantine Act, has been amended no less than 50 times over the last 106 years. While the legislation has served us well in the past, it has become cumbersome to administer, difficult to interpret and incompatible with our needs as our business and our risks change.

A new regulatory framework is needed to provide for a safe and seamless transition of people and goods across Australia's borders.

It needs to be more responsive to the threat of communicable diseases while also avoiding unnecessary burden on international passengers and trade.

Today the government brings forward the Biosecurity Bill and four companion bills to implement the biosecurity legislation. The Minster for Agriculture is responsible for plant and animal quarantine and the Minster for Health is responsible for human quarantine. Accordingly, the legislation is a collaboration between both portfolios, and is jointly administered by them. This legislation will enable the departments to continue to manage biosecurity risks in a modern and responsive manner.

The century-old Quarantine Act was written in a completely different world, when today's technology was not conceived.

When the Quarantine Act came into force there were only two Australian passport holders.

The act was written when people and goods arrived by sea and today's air and sea craft were unimaginable. It was a time when the threat of diseases such as the bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera and measles were at the forefront of policymakers' minds and those of the community.

In 1908 over 5,000 miles of the Australian coastline remained uncharted, and in parts even unexamined.

The population of Australia at the time was around four million, less than the number of people that live in Sydney today.

To contrast this picture, in 2012-13 the Department of Agriculture cleared:

16 million arriving international passengers,

about 186 million international mail items,

1.7 million sea cargo consignments, and

26 million air cargo consignments.

In the past decade, we have seen the volume of air passengers grow by 80 per cent, sea containers by 82 per cent and bulk cargo increase by 16 per cent. So we need legislation that not only safeguards our primary industries, our environment and our people from the increased threat of pest and disease, but also allows us to manage these movements in the most efficient way.

This legislation is designed to support the biosecurity system in any age. The bill is a culmination of many years of work. A number of significant reviews of the system have outlined opportunities to improve the biosecurity system, including the development of new legislation.

During the development of the bill, we have worked with industry, stakeholders and state and territory governments to seek feedback and to ensure the legislation we put in place is robust and effective. This engagement will continue during the development of the regulations and policies that support the bill so that we all have the benefit of the best biosecurity system.

Strengthening the competitiveness and productivity of Australia's agriculture sector is a key undertaking of this government.

Australia is free of many pests and diseases that are common around the world. This allows our famers to produce higher quality products and increases the demand for those products.

This is essential for our farmers to maintain access to overseas markets and build on our position as a net exporter of the highest quality agricultural goods. In 2013-14 the total gross value of agricultural production was $53 billion.

These exports underpin our robust agricultural industry—and the biosecurity system that protects that industry—without which our farmers, the economy and consumers could suffer serious consequences.

Australia's enviable pest and disease status gives our producers a unique advantage. As well as playing an obvious role in protecting Australia's environment, safeguarding Australia from unwanted pests and diseases also protects Australia's economy.

For example, a recent review commissioned by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences looked at the economic impact of a hypothetical foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Australia.

In the event of a large multistate foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, the ABARES estimates revenue losses could be more than $50 billion over 10 years. Reflecting international experience, the economic impact of trade restrictions, including the closure of export markets, would be far greater than the cost of controlling the disease.

The bill will help protect the Australian environment from costly incursions by introducing a strong legislative framework that allows biosecurity risks to be managed more effectively.

In recent years, the biosecurity system has evolved to one based on risk, which helps officers target higher risk goods, passengers and mail. This has helped the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health to more effectively manage biosecurity risks associated with ever-increasing volumes of trade and passengers moving across our border.

When prohibited goods are intercepted, penalties in the bill will match the offence and be balanced, consistent and reflect the level of biosecurity risk posed.

The bill includes mechanisms to more clearly identify biosecurity risks offshore, onshore and at the border and will manage these risks using a broad range of Commonwealth powers.

In relation to risks posed to human health, the Quarantine Act was enacted before the considerations of individual rights and personal freedoms we have today. Within the bill, the process for managing the threat of a serious communicable disease to human health will be better aligned with modern science relating to treatment and management of such diseases. It will also provide for consideration of personal freedoms and rights to review in human health biosecurity decision-making.

The new legislation will have no fiscal impact on the Australian economy. In fact it will reduce red tape for thousands of businesses that regularly interact with the biosecurity system.

The compliance costs on businesses are estimated to be reduced by approximately $6.9 million per year because of clearer, easier to use legislation and the improved processes it will enable.

The bill modernises overly complex regulatory provisions and administrative practices under the Quarantine Act.

A good example is the introduction of a new scheme to manage Commonwealth-industry partnerships, known as the approved arrangement scheme.

This will replace the duplicative quarantine approved premise and compliance agreement provisions in the Quarantine Act, which can overlap and cause unnecessary costs for businesses. Provisions in the bill will instead allow businesses to enter into a single agreement with the Department of Agriculture, to manage their biosecurity risks in an approved way that better reflects their business operations.

The Biosecurity Bill introduces a new range of enforcement options, including infringement notices, civil penalties, enforceable undertakings and criminal sanctions.

The enforcement work undertaken by the Department of Agriculture is complex and can require a different approach than that traditionally taken by law enforcement.

Biosecurity requirements are grounded in science and not everyone who breaches them will have understood why or have done so deliberately.

Having a range of enforcement options available is important, as it gives the department the ability to effectively penalise those who deliberately breach laws and greater flexibility to deal with those who have inadvertently committed a breach.

Importantly, the bill contains new powers to address the risk posed by people and companies. Previous non-compliant behaviour of individuals or their associates can be considered when issuing an import permit or entering into a Commonwealth-industry partnership through a fit-and-proper person test.

Currently the current Quarantine Act only allows for assessment of the risks associated with the goods themselves.

The bill will provide the Commonwealth with the right tools to manage biosecurity threats, including the human health risks posed to the Australian population from serious communicable diseases.

The human health provisions of the Quarantine Act, particularly those relating to isolation and treatment, have rarely been used in the last 20 years.

It is expected that the human health provisions contained in the bill will be seldom used. However it is important that legislative powers are available to manage serious communicable diseases should they occur.

This has been particularly highlighted by the recent announcements by the World Health Organization of polio and ebola virus disease as public health emergencies of international concern. Importantly, the bill will also seek to further implement Australia's obligations as a signatory to the International Health Regulations 2005.

The Biosecurity Bill also creates powers to enable information gathering to review the biosecurity system. It is intended that these powers will be used by the Inspector-General of Biosecurity.

This will help ensure that the assessment and management of biosecurity risk is subject to regular review and continual improvement. An independently verified system will enhance the overall integrity and robustness of the Australian biosecurity system.

The bill will create and enable partnerships and better collaboration between governments, business and industry.

State governments, business and industries will be able to take a greater role in managing biosecurity risks—where it is appropriate to do so—with support and regulatory oversight from the Commonwealth. In doing so, there will be a more appropriate level or intensity of intervention from the government.

The Biosecurity Bill continues this intent by providing expanded onshore powers for the Commonwealth to cooperatively manage and address pest and disease incursions. Provisions such as the ability to issue biosecurity control orders and the establishment of biosecurity zones enhance the powers available to the Commonwealth to address biosecurity risks within or across jurisdictions, in a consistent way.

This is particularly important where state and territory government regulations may be incompatible or lack the powers required to manage an incident.

The Department of Agriculture has worked closely with states and territories and will continue to do so in the further development and implementation of the Biosecurity Bill.

This bill was several years in the making.

After engaging with industry, state and territory governments, environment groups, health professionals, the general public and our trading partners, the Biosecurity Bill 2014 represents a comprehensive modernisation of the Australian biosecurity legislation.

The bill directly addresses the government's commitment to improving Australia's already world-class biosecurity system.

The departments of Agriculture and Health employ and work with some of Australia's most knowledgeable and experienced plant scientists, veterinarians and medical and clinical experts.

These people are available to our biosecurity officers to provide current advice and guidance on the risks posed by the movement of people, aircraft, vessels and goods.

This bill ensures the Australian biosecurity system can continue to respond to future changes that this shifting world presents and the challenges and opportunities that come with those changes.

For Australian farmers, a strong biosecurity system means crops will be safer from exotic pests and livestock better protected from diseases such as foot-and-mouth.

For the Australian economy, it means an increased capacity for sustained domestic production and international exports from a competitive and profitable agricultural sector.

For the Australian community more broadly, it means everyone can continue to have confidence in the biosecurity system which protects our way of life.

Debate adjourned.