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Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Page: 9079


Mr ROBERT (FaddenMinister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business) (10:46): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested Australia's human biosecurity systems in an unprecedented way. It has highlighted the rate at which a biosecurity threat can spread between countries and around the world. The spread of exotic pests and diseases is putting unprecedented pressure on our border, and our biosecurity system must continue to evolve to keep pace with these new threats.

Through this pandemic, international maritime vessels have emerged as a significant risk pathway for biosecurity threats to enter Australia. This bill will amend the Biosecurity Act to provide an improved framework to assess and manage incoming vessels and aircraft where infectious disease risks have been identified on board. These amendments are consistent with recommendations made by the Inspector-General of Biosecurity in his review of the Ruby Princess cruise ship incident, which the minister commissioned.

The bill will expand pre-arrival reporting requirements, ensuring that accurate and up-to-date information is available to assess the human health risk of arriving vessels and aircraft. It will also expand and strengthen penalties for operators and persons in charge of aircraft and vessels who do not comply with pratique requirements.

It will also provide a mechanism to manage groups of people, such as on board a cruise ship, where passengers or crew display signs or symptoms of a listed human disease, or have been exposed to such a disease. In these circumstances, human biosecurity officers will be able to effectively assess and manage the risks of that disease spreading or entering Australia.

We all look forward to the safe reopening of Australia's borders and this bill will play an important part in supporting this by reducing the potential for the entry, emergence, establishment and spread of listed human diseases while facilitating a critical step towards a national economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, Australia is one of the few countries in the world that is free of serious pests and diseases. This means our current biosecurity system is serving our country well. It has been instrumental in successfully protecting our $51 billion agricultural export industries, our unique environment, our native flora and fauna, and our way of life.

However, Australia's biosecurity system is facing growing regional and global threats such as African swine fever and hitchhiker pests like khapra beetle and the brown marmorated stink bug. Higher mail and cargo volumes and complex supply chains, together with the anticipated return to growing international passenger arrivals, increase the opportunities for pests and diseases to enter Australia. The constantly evolving biosecurity environment and risk profile have heightened the need for enhanced risk management to respond effectively to emerging biosecurity risks and future challenges.

This bill will enhance the ability of the Biosecurity Act to meet these challenges. It will increase the transparency and efficiency of administrative processes in the Biosecurity Act, such as those involved in conducting a risk assessment for the purposes of making certain determinations or granting an import permit. The bill will also introduce into the Biosecurity Act a framework to provide legislative authority to the agriculture and health ministers to make, vary and administer arrangements or grants for expenditure in relation to biosecurity related programs and activities such as the National Citrus Canker Eradication program, which successfully eradicated the citrus canker outbreak in the Northern Territory and saved Australia's $800 million citrus industry.

The bill will also amend the Biosecurity Act to increase certain key civil and criminal pecuniary penalty provisions to promote deterrence and enable a proportionate response, reflecting the seriousness of the contravention of these provisions and the consequences that may result from non-compliance.

The increased civil penalties introduced by this bill will serve as a significant deterrent to anybody considering undermining our biosecurity laws and the criminal penalties will allow a proportionate and appropriate punishment for contraventions of the act.

This government is committed to continuous improvement across our world-leading biosecurity system. That is why this government announced funding of over $400 million for biosecurity in the 2021-22 budget. The Biosecurity Act is the central pillar of our defence against current and emerging biosecurity threats, and this bill will enhance our biosecurity framework by improving the efficiency and administration of the act.

This bill ensures continued protection for agriculture, tourism and other industries; plant and animal health; the environment; and our market access while providing a stronger biosecurity risk management framework and contributing to a safe reopening of Australia's international borders.

I commend the bill to the House

Debate adjourned.