Federal Government to ‘change the dial’ on exotic threats in $61.6m biosecurity boost

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenCountryman
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, left, and Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
Camera IconAustralian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, left, and Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud. Credit: Rod McGuirk/AP

The Federal Government is “changing the dial” on biosecurity and ramping up the use of technology in a $61.6 million bid to halt the growing list of “exotic threats” on Australia’s doorstep.

Bolstering Northern Australia’s “biosecurity frontline” was a key focus in Tuesday’s Federal Budget, with the Liberal-Nationals Government outlining various funding projects to fight exotic threats including lumpy skin disease.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the Government was committed to “consolidating and improving biosecurity across Northern Australia” over the next four years.

“Northern Australia is on the biosecurity frontline due to its proximity to near neighbours where significant animal and plant diseases are present, and prevailing wind and sea currents,” he said.

“The threats that are revolving right across the planet are now on Australia’s doorstep and are real to Australian agriculture, and to our environment.

“We’re changing the dial in terms of how we are treating these threats.

“We are moving towards intelligence and technology, but that also has to be complemented with more boots on the ground and more paws on the ground.”

The biosecurity boost included $15 million to support technical preparation and response capability in the fight against lumpy skin disease, a devastating cattle illness currently running rampant in Indonesia.

“There is a real live risk that we could get it here and that’s why we’re trying to make sure that if it does hit Australia we’re on the front foot, we identify it immediately, and we contain it and eradicate it,” Mr Littleproud said.

He said stopping lumpy skin disease — which could potentially impact cattle operations nationwide and compromise access to international markets — was a “key priority” to protect Australia’s $15 billion cattle industry.

Other exotic biosecurity risks present in Australia’s near neighbours included African swine fever, citrus canker and Asian green mussel.

It is estimated an African swine fever outbreak would cost the Australian economy $2 billion.

The Federal Government will also trial five remote-controlled 4WD robots in a biosecurity inspection pilot being rolled out at post-entry sites in Fremantle, Adelaide, Darwin and Brisbane.

The $64,000 trial, which is being run in collaboration with the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, will investigate whether the robots can identify biosecurity risks on imported cargo more effectively and safely than humans.

The robots — which are fitted with high-definition and thermal-imaging cameras — will be tested during controlled, onsite inspections using imported freight such as sea containers, vehicles and heavy agricultural machinery.

“They’re very slimline so they can be sent in underneath consignments,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Live footage of the cargo underside can be viewed by officers on monitors.”

The $61.6m biosecurity boost paled in significance to that announced in last year’s Federal Budget, when the Morrison Government promised to commit $371m to strengthen biosecurity.

But Mr Littleproud said this year’s announcement was still a “big investment” in ensuring Australia was “ahead of the curve”.

It included $17m to be spent on building regional resilience to manage biosecurity risks by delivering critical biosecurity infrastructure to northern industries and communities.

“We are also enhancing our biosecurity frontline across the north with additional Indigenous biosecurity officers, four dedicated detector dogs in the north and enhancing biosecurity networks,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Effective biosecurity management is essential to keep Australia safe from exotic pests, weeds and diseases, supporting the agricultural industry’s goal of $100 billion by 2030.

“Protecting our biosecurity status will maintain our strong market access position and support sustainable, resilient and more profitable agricultural industries.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government is reviewing its draft National Biosecurity Strategy after public submissions closed on March 18.

The strategy — the first of its kind in Australia — would “set the direction for the future of the national biosecurity system,” a spokesman for the Department of Water, Agriculture and Environment said.

“The consultation draft captures views from stakeholders about how the biosecurity system needs to evolve... (and) outlines a vision and purpose, priority areas and initial proposed actions,” the spokesperson said.

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