Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2016
The Senate has just handed down its final report dated March
2014 concerning the investigation by the Department of Agriculture
(the Department) into the effect, and potential risk, of allowing
imports of certain fruits, vegetables and spices into Australia. In
short, the report criticises the Department's current
biosecurity operations and recommends a new, single and stand-alone
statutory authority to oversee Australia's Federal level
quarantine and biosecurity policy and operations.
Biosecurity is an umbrella term that refers to a particular
geographic region's efforts to prevent or reduce the risk of
intrusion of exotic biological pests, species and diseases. It is
almost synonymous with quarantine.
Australia's biosecurity policies are not the exclusive
province of the Federal Government, but are overseen by both
Federal and State governments - hence 'fruit bins' on
various State highways sitting just across State boarders. Each
level of government has used its powers to enact numerous pieces of
legislation that together form Australia's biosecurity
Despite sharing biosecurity responsibility with the States, the
Federal Government's control of Australia's boarders gives
it biosecurity primacy. It exercises powers that prevent, or indeed
allow, certain imports reaching our shores. Its policy in this
regard, overseen by the Department, aims to strike a balance
between 'reducing risk [of an agricultural emergency] to a very
low level', in order to protect Australia's agribusiness,
and allowing the safe importation of fresh fruit and livestock to
enhance our economic prosperity and build trading
When the importation of a new fruit or animal is first mooted -
usually by a 'market access request' - the Department has a
series of complicated measures it takes to assess the risk of
allowing the importation on scientific, industry and regional
bases. This process is known as an 'import risk analysis'
The Senate report
The recent Senate report was specifically set up to consider the
Department's investigations, including the sufficiency of its
IRAs, into the potential importation of pineapples from Malaysia,
ginger from Fiji and potatoes from New Zealand. These imports have
not commenced, and the report expressed concern on whether risks
had properly been assessed, and whether stakeholders and peak
bodies had been kept abreast of the Department's investigations
and given the opportunity to make submissions concerning the
competency of those investigations. The undercurrent here was that
the Department was considering recommendations based upon risk
assessments which could have been improved by broader industry
consultation, and that the failure to do this potentially
jeopardised the ongoing prosperity of important agricultural
sectors of the Australian economy, particularly South Australian
Some specific recommendations made by the report included:
establishing a single, independent, statutory authority -
separate from the Department - with responsibility for quarantine
and biosecurity operations
ensuring that stakeholders' risk perceptions be
incorporated into the risk criteria used to assess an import risk
and to improve communications with stakeholders
enabling stakeholders to review any scientific evidence which
the Department regards as showing there to be a minimal pest risk
from new vegetable imports.
We may now see an overhaul of risk assessment for biosecurity,
giving greater voice to local industry over the lure of
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