By Kristy McBain

29 November 2022

As the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories and as the local member for Eden-Monaro, I have two very strong reasons to support the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Biosecurity) Bill 2022, which will amend the Biosecurity Act 2015. We have long had the security of being an island nation, a natural advantage when preventing the entry of biosecurity hazards. But our world is rapidly changing, and we need a modern biosecurity system to keep up with the modern problems of the increased movement of people and goods. We need to ensure that we can respond quickly to threats posed by exotic pests and diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, lumpy skin disease or khapra beetle. When I visit farms in my electorate of Eden-Monaro, I see how hard our farmers are working to develop strong businesses, healthy crops and well cared for animals. Those farmers are the ones who will be hit the hardest if an exotic animal disease were to enter our country. We all recall the devastating footage of foot-and-mouth disease on English farms in 2001, and we know our close neighbours in Indonesia are battling this right now. We've lived through COVID-19, and we understand the concept of viruses moving beyond borders. Our healthy crops and valuable products rely on us preventing entry of exotic viruses, diseases and pests.

This includes cropping, horticulture and livestock production, which is a major industry in Eden-Monaro, with a value of $568 million in agricultural commodities. Obviously, the threat of foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease is a huge risk for our region, with over 2½ thousand enterprises carrying over 360,000 sheep and cattle, which contribute $490 million to our economy. However, horticulture, aquaculture and forestry are also vital industries that require biosecurity protections. Apples contribute over $47 million to the economy in Eden-Monaro and are also at risk from multiple pests and diseases that are currently not present in Australia. Aquaculture is a growing primary industry and one that has huge potential. Australia's reputation for producing a safe, sustainable, high-quality product is at risk from the many diseases that affect aquaculture in other countries. For example, in the electorate of Eden-Monaro, production of Sydney rock oysters is worth $13½ million at the farm gate alone. This industry is at risk of six exotic viral and parasitic diseases which are a threat to hatchery production and market access and trade. These diseases also present challenges to young mussel farms in Eden and Jarvis Bay.

The softwood forests of Eden-Monaro serve the important needs of our nation for renewable products. The absence of exotic forest pests in Australia has contributed to the successful development of a softwood plantation industry. Our forestry industries also make large-scale investments which support our local economy. Our forest product industry in Eden-Monaro alone provides over 5,000 jobs. The seaweed industry, currently in its infancy, with the majority of production in the harvesting of wild kelp, is now present in our electorate as well. However, the potential for this industry is great, with a target of $10 million in production by 2025. But this fledgling industry is at risk with the threat to our native species of non-native pests and disease in seed stock. All of these businesses—both fledgling and long established—need to be protected by a strong biosecurity system.

The economic success of our farms, aquaculture and forestry industries has a direct link to the success of our regional towns and villages. Our hardware shops, produce doors, cafes and small businesses rely on a strong regional economy. When our agricultural economy was decimated by drought, it rippled through towns and villages, and we need to protect our regional communities from the potentially devastating impacts of crops and industry loss due to pests and diseases.

On a national scale, there is a strong economic imperative to halt any exotic disease in its tracks. The entry of foot-and-mouth disease alone could cost our economy up to $80 billion. We need to continue to maintain our natural advantage in international markets. When our products remain disease and virus free, we can move our product more easily across international borders. A strong biosecurity system means we can participate more easily in international markets. Our nation remains free of many significant diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease, and we need to keep it that way. The changes put forward in this bill will ensure we have a contemporary biosecurity system that can handle the complex challenges of today.

In the recent budget, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests, Murray Watt, announced an increased biosecurity investment of more than $134 million. This funding will bolster Australia's biosecurity system against the immediate threat of disease, providing critical resources, including fast-tracking of $61.6 million over two years to strengthen Australia's frontline biosecurity capability, including in northern Australia, and to support domestic preparedness and biosecurity outcomes in our neighbouring countries; $14 million to continue providing support to Indonesia, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea to prevent, and respond to the spread of, foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease; and $11.7 million to expand our biosecurity detector dog capability at our borders by investing in an additional 20 detector dogs and handlers that will be positioned at airports and mail centres around Australia. This is a significant investment towards protecting our agricultural industry, but this only goes so far in providing protections. We also need strong legislation, as presented in this bill, to back it up.

The bill before us strengthens the management of biosecurity risks posed by goods, vessels and travellers. This bill makes critical amendments to ensure we can respond quickly to concerns of disease being introduced to Australia through contaminated clothing, footwear and other goods of incoming travellers. It enables more effective sharing of important information across government agencies so that we can respond more quickly and effectively to those possible threats.

The bill also creates new civil penalty provisions for persons who fail to comply with an entry requirement or a preventative biosecurity measure. This better reflects the seriousness of noncompliance and the potential impacts to our biosecurity system., I commend this biosecurity bill to the House, and it will be very important to regional communities across the nation.