Beefed up biosecurity laws to protect Australia

Senator the Hon Murray Watt
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

The Albanese Government has introduced changes to bolster Australia’s ability to respond to and manage biosecurity risks.

The Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Biosecurity) Bill 2022, introduced into the Parliament this week, will encourage more thorough reporting of biosecurity risks entering Australia through air and sea ports.

It will also step up a range of civil and criminal penalties under the Biosecurity Act.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt said people who jeopardised Australia’s biosecurity system – including aircraft and vessel operators who fail to comply with pre-arrival reporting requirements, or a person in charge of goods failing to report a reportable biosecurity incident – would face tougher penalties of up to 1000 penalty units, or $222,000, if they do not fulfil their obligations.

“Operators and persons in charge of aircraft and vessels must properly report biosecurity threats, so that our biosecurity officers have accurate and up-to-date information available to assess the risks onboard,” Minister Watt said.

“By expanding pre-arrival reporting requirements, the Bill will implement important lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes harsher penalties and additional reporting responsibilities, developed through advice from the Inspector General of Biosecurity Report into the failures that lead to the Ruby Princess cruise ship debacle.

“The Albanese Government is introducing biosecurity measures that are long overdue.

“The former Government failed to prioritise this legislation in their last term, leaving Australia unprepared for the threats we face.

“While the overwhelming majority do the right thing, a very small minority may be careless or break the rules, and we need to make sure appropriate deterrents are in place.”

This Bill is the first stage of improvements to strengthen Australia’s biosecurity system, with future amendments to include tougher penalties for failing to declare high-risk biosecurity goods such as meat products which carry the risk of foot and mouth disease (FMD).

Australia’s biosecurity system underpins 1.6 million jobs across the agricultural supply chain and $70.3 billion in exports.

“This Bill shows we are serious, FMD would have a damaging impact on Australia’s biosecurity status, market access and economy and these new penalties will reflect that,” Minister Watt added.

“If we wish to continue to keep Australia free of pests and diseases, the Biosecurity Act must remain fit-for-purpose and future-proofed.

“These stronger penalties – in some cases up to $1.1 million for corporate bodies – better reflect the seriousness of ignoring Australia’s tough biosecurity laws.

“Biosecurity is everybody’s responsibility, and everybody needs to do the right thing. If they don’t, the Australian public rightfully would expect that the punishment would fit the crime.”

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