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Tuesday, 1 August 2023
Page: 1

Mr LITTLEPROUD (MaranoaLeader of the Nationals) (12:02): On behalf of the federal coalition, I confirm to the House that we will be supporting the passage of the Biosecurity Amendment (Advanced Compliance Measures) Bill 2023. The coalition recognises that having a strong and robust biosecurity system is crucial to protecting Australia against the threat of pests and diseases. Biosecurity is a critical pillar of our national defence. Having an efficient system in place allows our nation to prepare for, mitigate and respond to the serious risks to our environment, economy and way of life.

Incredibly, Australia's environmental assets are estimated to be worth $5.7 trillion. Our agricultural production has reached $90 billion and employs hundreds of thousands of Australians. Before the COVID 19 pandemic, tourism contributed $50 billion to our national GDP. The health, sustainability and resilience of these sectors relies on a biosecurity system that is advanced and effective. However, many of the things we take for granted as a constant of Australian life are at greater risk than ever before. It's a confronting reality that exotic pests and diseases are spreading around the world and putting serious pressure on our borders, especially with current threats like foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease. The emergency response in Australia continues to eradicate varroa mite. Responding to this rapidly changing biosecurity environment requires the government to have the controls, partnerships, tools, processes and networks in place to manage these risks.

That brings us to the bill before the House today. The Biosecurity Amendment (Advanced Compliance Measures) Bill 2023 will amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 by streamlining administrative processes and increasing some penalties to ensure there is compliance with our strict biosecurity laws. This follows a track record of similar changes made to the act in previous years. Since it commenced in 2015, the Biosecurity Act has been amended several times, mainly in relation to increases in civil penalties for breaches.

The bill consists of four schedules which apply to both human and non-human biosecurity risks. Schedule 1 relates to assessing biosecurity risks for persons on an incoming aircraft or vessel. The amendments will allow classes of people to be directed to provide relevant information, instead of the current method, which is on an individual basis. The Director of Biosecurity may also require any person to produce passports or official government travel documents to assess the level of biosecurity risk and for future profiling or future risk assessments. These documents can be scanned and retained for as long as necessary to meet the purpose of this provision. It's important to note that there is a penalty for not adhering to this provision and that, currently, under the Biosecurity Act 2015, passports can be requested to be provided. This amendment will formalise this request and include the purposes for providing these documents—for determining the level of biosecurity risks associated with persons and any goods that the person has with them and for future profiling or future risk assessment—and allow for these documents to be scanned and retained.

Schedule 2 amends the process of providing notifications to holders of an approved arrangement so as to streamline the process of suspending, changing or revoking these arrangements. The aim of these changes is to cut red tape for biosecurity officers by making this process simpler and avoiding the need to provide multiple notifications. It also introduces a new procedural fairness requirement relating to a notice of proposed variation and an alternative sanction of a reprimand.

Schedule 3 increases a range of civil penalties for breaches of biosecurity law to prevent listed human diseases, to manage deceased individuals and human remains and to meet the requirements that apply in human health response zones. Ultimately, we need to have civil penalties which serve as a proportionate deterrent against noncompliance in response to growing human biosecurity threats. Additionally, there are increased penalties for providing false and misleading information.

Schedule 4 allows strict liability provisions and infringement notices to apply to a number of penalties where there is no way to deal with low-level noncompliance other than by prosecution or civil litigation. This will ensure that non-compliance can be addressed swiftly and effectively.

The federal coalition notes that this bill has undergone extensive consideration, with it having been referred to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee on 22 June. This committee has now published its report, and has recommended that the bill be supported through the parliament. We also recognise that through this committee process the bill has the support of industry and major agricultural stakeholders, including the National Farmers Federation, GrainGrowers, Australian Dairy Farmers, Australian Pork Ltd and NSW Farmers.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: we must ensure that people who seek to enter Australia and bring goods into this country—those who present a biosecurity risk at our borders—are complying with their obligations and responsibilities to keep our nation safe from pests and diseases. So, while the coalition are supporting the passage of this bill, we are concerned with Labor's approach to other elements of its biosecurity policy.

In her second reading speech on this bill, the minister spoke about the government's sustainable funding model. We know that it's absolutely vital that Australia has a biosecurity system that is adequately and appropriately funded. That's why in government the federal coalition always supported a sustainable funding model for biosecurity. However, taxing farmers was never considered to be a part of the mix. The coalition's approach to the sustainable funding model was targeted at the risk creators—the importers. We believe that an import container levy is the responsible and fair way forward. In government we were making progress on this model, but it has not been implemented by the Albanese government.

Instead of implementing an import container levy, the Albanese government has decided that, from 1 July next year, Australian farmers will be slugged with a new $153 million tax, which amounts to a bill that is equivalent to 10 per cent of their existing industry-led agricultural levels. Why would any Australian government tax its own farmers to pay for the biosecurity risks of their international competitors to bring their product into this country? It doesn't make sense. It's profoundly unfair and it's the wrong approach to ensuring that our biosecurity system is properly funded into the future. The Australian people can be assured that under a federal coalition government, in contrast to Labor, our hardworking farmers will never be punished for the biosecurity risks that their international competitors pose.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the federal coalition support the passage of the bill through the House. We support it because we need to have a biosecurity system that is strong, robust and fit for purpose, a system which has in place penalties that reflect the severity of any breaches or noncompliance by individuals who would willingly place our unique environment, our economy and our society at risk. That's how serious this is and that's why the federal coalition is proud of our track record in government. Biosecurity was always a priority, and we achieved a lot. Under our government, we made more than $1 billion available for biosecurity and export programs in 2022, a funding increase of 69 per cent compared to 2014. In the last year's budget we committed to strengthening the northern Australia biosecurity front line against animal diseases, state and territory governments were to be given support to undertake surveillance and control activities and funding was announced to improve livestock traceability. In government, we increased fines and penalties for people breaking biosecurity laws and partnered with New Zealand to develop world-leading biosecurity risk detection technology, such as 3D X-ray machines. Ultimately, our measures in office ensured that Australia remained a world leader in biosecurity, with strong controls in place offshore, at our border and within Australia.

When it comes to the Biosecurity Amendment (Advanced Compliance Measures) Bill 2023, the federal coalition believes that the measures outlined in this legislation are sensible and reasonable, and we commend it to the House.

Debate adjourned.