Biosecurity Amendment (Traveller Declarations and Other Measures) Bill 2020

07 Oct 2020 speech

Ms FLINT (Boothby—Government Whip) (11:02): I'm pleased to be speaking on the Biosecurity Amendment (Traveller Declarations and Other Measures) Bill 2020 today, because this bill is all about protecting Australian agriculture. As someone who grew up on a farm, and whose parents are still actively farming in the south-east of South Australia, this is a matter very dear to my heart. My mum and dad grow beef, lamb and wool, and we live in a part of South Australia that's quite close to the coast so we have a very important fishing industry there as well, which is mainly cray fishing. All of these products are critical to Australia's exports, critical to jobs and critical to our national income and economy, which is why we need to make sure that we do everything in our power to keep our agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries as safe as possible.

Australian farmers, as we know, produce some of the best food and fibre products in the world. Our food products are also some of the safest in the world. They're produced under very careful environmental controls with stringent conditions on things like the use of chemicals and veterinary products. We have very careful and stringent protections for our natural environment in terms of water, native vegetation and native wildlife. We have very careful rules around wild catch harvest, for example, as well. Our fishing industry has led the world in terms of protecting our fish stocks and carefully managing and protecting fisheries with quotas and sanctuary zones.

Unlike most other Western countries, our farmers are not paid by the government to farm. They're not protected by tariffs and subsidies. They are at very much at the whim of the market, and so have to be innovative and have to be able to adapt and change in response to market conditions.

As we know, Australia is a big island, and, as a big island, we are incredibly lucky to have very few pests and diseases that can impact our agricultural, forestry and fisheries industries and products. As the federal
government, we work very hard to make sure we keep it that way. That's why we're introducing this bill, to keep our nation free of exotic and hugely dangerous and damaging pests and diseases that could easily destroy our agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries. We need to be vigilant in order to protect Australia from an ever increasing number of pests and diseases that threaten our industries, and biosecurity is critical to doing that. Pests such as the brown marmorated stink bug, which has the potential to decimate crops and do untold damage to our natural environment, post a continuing threat. Other diseases, such as African swine fever—which I know is front of mind for many producers at the moment—has strains that kill almost every pig infected, and this would cripple our $1.2 billion pork industry as well as threaten our trade, environment and economy.

On the topic of pork, anyone out there listening or watching at the moment, please remember to always check the label on your pork products, especially ham and bacon, to make sure you're buying Australian, because, unlike pork producers in literally every other nation in the world, our pork producers are not supported by government tariffs and subsidies. So, please do everything you can to support our Australian farmers and buy Aussie pork. To protect all our Australian farmers, the Morrison government is investing millions of dollars into preventing pests and diseases from entering Australia, but we need every single person who is coming into our country to do the right thing and to do their bit when they come into Australia.

This bill seeks to amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 to ensure a proportionate and effective compliance response through the targeted setting of infringement notice amounts to deter noncompliance. In other words, if you do the wrong thing you will be punished, and there will be a financial penalty. This bill changes the regulation-making power so that infringement notices may be issued for different but set amounts for an alleged contravention of the Biosecurity Act and for different periods of time to pay. These different amounts and times to pay may be specified by matters including reference to the kinds of goods or classes of goods that the alleged contravention relates to.

The bill will permit the director of biosecurity to make a legislative instrument that lists goods or classes of goods that attract a higher infringement notice amount than currently available. In making this instrument the director must be reasonably satisfied that there is a high level of biosecurity risk associated with the goods. Currently, incoming passengers and crew, including persons in charge of an aircraft or vessel, who fail to declare goods may receive an infringement notice in the amount of two penalty units, which is currently $444. The effect of this bill will be to enable an infringement notice to be issued for up to 12 penalty units, currently $2,664. So, that's a big increase in the fine that you will attract if you do the wrong thing, when incoming passengers and crew allegedly fail to declare goods listed in the legislative instrument. The law applies to all Australian citizens and anyone else coming into our nation. So, it's not just for citizens; it's for any traveller coming into Australia.

I want to reiterate why this bill is so important and why protecting Australian agriculture is such an important issue. The key reason is that agriculture is a really big employer. Hundreds of thousands of Australians—in fact, over 330,00 Australians—are employed in agriculture, fisheries and forestry. And that's before we even get to the value-added processing that happens through our food manufacturing industry, for example, and before we get to the indirect employment provided by agriculture, whether it's farmers going into their local towns and shopping at the supermarket or the newsagent, getting their farm supplies locally or employing a truck driver from time to time throughout the year.

That's just in terms of jobs. Australian agriculture is also critically important to our national economy. The gross value of Australian agriculture was $60 billion in 2018-19, despite the significant drought conditions that we saw around the nation. The total gross value of crops in this financial year rose one per cent, to $30 billion —again, despite drought conditions. I want to go through the value of each of our different industries so that people have a really clear idea of what we are protecting when we make sure that we have strong biosecurity rules and that we all follow those rules when we come into Australia. Wheat is worth $6 billion; fruit and nuts, $5 billion; vegetables, $4 billion; barley, $3 billion; cotton, $1 billion; canola, $1 billion; and rice, $34 million. Our livestock is worth around $31 billion a year, gross value, to the Australian economy. In 2018-19 cattle and calves were worth $13 billion to our national economy; sheep and lambs, $4 billion; pigs, $1 billion; and wool, milk and eggs, $10 billion.

So every time people do the wrong thing, when they come into Australia and don't declare things that they shouldn't be bringing in, they put at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs and $60 billion of income for our nation. It's so important that people do the right thing and follow the rules, and the rules are really easy to follow. If you've ever been overseas, you'll be very familiar with the incoming passenger card. It's the yellow card that you're given when you're on the plane, or even on a boat, coming into Australia, and it gives you a really clear list of things that you need to declare to make sure that you're not putting Australia at risk.

The card asks whether you're bringing into Australia the following things: meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, fruit, vegetables, grains, seeds, bulbs, straw, nuts, plants, parts of plants, traditional medicine, herbs or wooden articles. It asks you if you're bringing in animals, parts of animals, animal products (including equipment), pet food, eggs, biological specimens, birds, fish, insects, shells or bee products, and it also asks you if you have any items that might have soil on them that have been used in freshwater areas or if you've been in contact with farms, farm animals or wilderness areas in the past 30 days. There is more detailed information on what you can and can't bring into Australia on the department of agriculture website. If you've got any further inquiries, I encourage you to jump online and inform yourself of what you can and can't bring into Australia, so that we keep our farmers safe. If you visit you'll see the full list, item by item, of what you can and can't safely bring into Australia.

Unfortunately, we know that a lot of people are still doing the wrong thing, which is why this bill is necessary. Anyone who has watched Channel 7's program Border Security - Australia's Front Line will have seen people doing the wrong thing, trying to bring into Australia some really interesting goods that would have a devastating effect on our fisheries and our agriculture if they were to be consumed or to get into our natural environment. There's no excuse for this, because, as I just read out, the border entry card is completely clear about what you do and don't have to declare when you're coming in and what you can and can't bring in. In 2018-19, biosecurity officers issued an average of 410 infringement notices a month at Australian airports. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit our nation, in January 2020 this had risen to 1,139. That's a lot of people doing the wrong thing. That is a lot of people putting our fishers and our farmers at risk, putting $60 billion of Australian agricultural products at risk and putting over 330,000 direct agricultural jobs at risk.

That's why this bill is necessary. It sends a strong message to incoming passengers and crew that they need to declare biosecurity risk goods when they enter Australia. The beauty of this is that it costs you nothing to declare. If you are in doubt, just make a declaration on your incoming passenger card and ask our wonderful biosecurity frontline staff whether you're allowed to bring it in or not. It doesn't cost you a cent. It may cost you a tiny bit of time, but it's far better to spend those extra couple of minutes making sure what you're bringing in is safe to bring in than risk our $60 billion agricultural industry or risk a significant fine for yourself. It's when you don't declare and when you are found to have something that is not allowed into Australia that you will be detected and you will receive an infringement notice.

We have wonderful border security officers and staff keeping Australians safe from exotic pests and diseases,and they do this in a range of ways. They have detector dogs, they have 2D and 3D X-ray technology and they screen everyone's baggage coming in, especially if they suspect that you might have something you shouldn't. So, rest assured, you are at great risk of being caught if you don't declare properly or if you try to bring things in that you shouldn't. I believe we have over 40 sniffer dogs in our airports, working constantly to make sure that people are not trying to bring in things they shouldn't. They do a wonderful job detecting meat, fruit, vegetables, seeds and grains and other items that people shouldn't have and that they have failed to declare. There is a very high chance that you will be caught. I'm glad there's a high chance that people will be caught, because I don't want our farmers and our agricultural industries put at risk.

Ideally, this bill would not be necessary. The increase in infringement notices and fines would not be necessary if people were doing the right thing and didn't bring in prohibited goods. Please educate yourself. If you have visitors from overseas coming to see you, when our borders have reopened, please make sure that they understand what you can and can't bring in. Visit the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment's website. Familiarise yourself with the incoming passenger card and, if in doubt, please make a declaration. Check with our wonderful biosecurity staff that the items you have are safe to bring in. The staff work so hard to keep our nation safe and to protect all our farmers and fisheries from exotic pests and diseases that would have catastrophic impacts if they were to come into Australia. We are lucky, in many ways, to be a large and relatively isolated island. It has meant we are one of the cleanest, greenest, safest and most productive agricultural nations in the world. Let's keep it that way. Let's all do the right thing, in terms of biosecurity.