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24 October 2022

Strengthening of Australia's biosecurity laws

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Cooper Grace Ward

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Established in 1980, Cooper Grace Ward is a leading independent law firm in Brisbane with over 20 partners and 200 team members. They offer a wide range of commercial legal services with a focus on corporate, commercial, property, litigation, insurance, tax, and family law. Their specialized team works across various industries, providing exceptional client service and fostering a strong team culture.
The reforms increase protections from pests or diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australia.
Australia Environment
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Given the doubts that have been cast regarding claims by Indonesian officials that no cases of foot and mouth disease have been recorded in Bali's cattle in recent months, the strengthening of Australia's biosecurity laws should be welcomed.

On 28 September 2022, Senator Anthony Chisholm, Assistant Minister for Education and Assistant Minister for Regional Development, introduced the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Biosecurity) Bill 2022 (Cth) into the Australian Senate.

The Bill, if adopted, will amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth), with the stated aim to manage the risk of pests and diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australian territory and causing harm to animal, plant and human health, the environment and the economy.

The Bill introduces amendments to the Act in the following key areas.

Increasing protection from disease and pests

The Bill would insert new measures aimed at increasing protections from pests or diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australian territory.

The first measure empowers the Agriculture Minister to set requirements for people who enter Australia, including requirements to:

  • provide information if they have been in high risk environments or undertaken high risk activities
  • provide information about a person's intended destination and work in Australia
  • go to particular locations in an airport or a port
  • be screened by equipment or another method.

The second measure empowers the Agriculture Minister to determine certain measures to prevent behaviour that poses a biosecurity risk, including:

  • banning, restricting or even requiring certain behaviours or practices
  • requiring specified reporting be provided or specified records to be kept
  • conducting tests on goods or conveyances.

Pratique and pre-arrival reporting

The Bill would amend relevant provisions of the Act relating to pratique 1 and pre-arrival reporting to:

  • broaden the application of certain provision to include 'persons in charge of an incoming aircraft or vessel'
  • require additional reporting in certain circumstances
  • increase penalties on individuals and corporations for contravention of provisions relating to pratique and pre-arrival reporting.

Information management

The Bill would amend the Act to provide specific authorisations for the use and disclosure of relevant information in the course of, or for the purpose of, performing functions or duties or exercising powers under the Act.

The Bill also introduces the concept of entrusted persons, who would have certain authorisation to deal with relevant information in a certain manner, including, for example:

  • disclosure to manage risks posed by diseases or pests in a state or territory
  • disclosure to a foreign government to give effect to Australia's international obligations
  • use or disclosure for the purpose of certain Acts administered by the Agriculture or Health Minister.

Strengthening penalties

The Bill would increase penalties that apply to specified criminal offences and civil penalty provisions and would align maximum penalties across key provisions of the Act.

Risk assessment

The Bill would amend a number of provisions relating to the conduct of risk assessments identifying the matters that the decision maker:

  • must be satisfied of
  • must or may consider

before making a decision to grant a permit for conditionally non-prohibited goods that must not be brought or imported into Australian territory without a permit.

Arrangements and grants for dealing with risks posed by diseases or pests

Currently, expenditure for programs dealing with risks posed by diseases or pests is generally established under the Financial Framework (Supplementary Powers) Act 1997 by inserting program into the Financial Framework (Supplementary Powers) Regulations 1997.

The Bill would provide legislative authority for arrangements and grants dealing with risks posed by diseases and pests to be established in the Act itself.

As stated in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, Australia's biosecurity system is a central pillar of our defence against current and emerging biosecurity threats, including those posed by exotic pests and diseases such as foot and mouth disease, lumpy skin disease, and infectious diseases posing a significant risk to human health, such as COVID-19.

Given the devastating impact biosecurity threats could and have had on Australia, any steps to strengthen our biosecurity system is welcomed.

Footnote

1The Act provides for the granting of pratique. If pratique is not granted, goods are not permitted to be loaded or unloaded from, or persons to embark or disembark from, vessels or aircraft.

© Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers

Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in Brisbane.

This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please contact Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers.

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