Australia’s ability to protect almost $100 billion of farming and tourism trade from pests and disease has been slammed in a damning report by the Auditor-General.
- The Auditor-General finds Australia’s biosecurity systems are not protecting the nation’s assets as well as they should be
- The Australian National Audit Office finds that products carrying the risk of disease or pests are being allowed into Australia
- The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment has accepted all of the office’s recommendations to improve its governance
The audit of biosecurity services has found that material that could risk the health of Australia’s plants and animals has been incorrectly released by the authorities that are meant to stop it.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has found that the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment — which has responsibility for managing Australia’s biosecurity for animals and plants – had inappropriate processes for responding to non-compliance with biosecurity requirements.
It also concluded that undetected non-compliance was increasing and the department’s protocols to detect non-compliance were only “partially appropriate”.
The audit was identified as a priority after changes to the Biosecurity Act were legislated in 2016 and has slammed the department’s response to increasing biosecurity risks.
“Intelligence is not gathered and managed effectively.
“There are ongoing issues with record keeping and random inspections … records indicate that travellers with declared or inspected risk material are being incorrectly released, although incorrect release rates have improved for mail.”
No process to evaluate risk management
The ANAO found that the department did not have “the framework to determine if its detection activities are effective” and was critical of funding arrangements, stating that there were “no documented arrangements to ensure the resources allocated to different pathways or threats are proportionate to the risk posed”.
“The department has not established arrangements to allow a full assessment of whether actions taken in response to non-compliance effectively manage biosecurity risk,” the reports said.
The report made eight recommendations in relation to the establishment of new frameworks and governance procedures regarding biosecurity.
Each recommendation has been accepted by the department.
‘The system must evolve’
The department’s head of biosecurity, Andrew Tongue, said the ANAO’s findings were well-timed, with the department already working to improve its compliance arrangements.
“Although Australia’s current biosecurity system has served our country well, the department recognises that the system must continue to evolve to enable appropriate management of known and emerging threats both domestically and globally,” Mr Tongue said.
NFF demands ‘complete overhaul’
Australian farmers have recently found worrying detections of the fall armyworm and banana-destroying Panama disease, while Queensland prawn farmers expect to lose millions of dollars to an outbreak of white spot disease.
The pork industry still fears it could experience an outbreak of the pig-killing African Swine Fever and apiarists face the risk that the bee-destroying varroa mite could enter Australia.
The National Farmers Federation said the ANAO report showed “Australia’s current biosecurity system isn’t up to the job and far from future-ready”.
“The NFF continues to call for a complete overhaul of the biosecurity system to improve the confidence farmers have in the system together with a renewable funding stream to ensure Australia’s biosecurity safeguards are strong and smart enough to protect agriculture, the environment, our community and the economy from potentially devastating biosecurity incursions,” NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said.
Government’s ‘abysmal failure’
Opposition agriculture spokeswoman Julie Collins said the report laid bare “the government’s abysmal failure on biosecurity”.
“It is shocking more isn’t being done to protect Australia’s agriculture industry from biosecurity risks,” Ms Collins said.
“Until last month’s budget, biosecurity funding was actually going backwards under the Morrison Government.”
A statement from Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said he welcomed the report, and the department’s response.
In last month’s federal budget, the government committed $370 million to biosecurity measures.
Last year it axed plans to introduce a levy that would have raised $325 million for biosecurity services.