A biosecurity strategy for all Australians

Feral Herald |

Until now, Australia’s biosecurity has been without formal structures and policies that bring all parties together.

Federal, state and territory governments’ focus has been on ‘shared responsibility’, trying to involve all Australians in supporting the biosecurity system, rather than relying on government efforts (which must refocus and continue).

This is an obvious and much needed approach since it is everybody’s actions that will determine whether a particular pest, disease or weed arrives in Australia, spreads and causes damage. However, the only agreements that exist at the national level relate to how federal, state and territory governments work together.

A national biosecurity strategy — a strategy owned and implemented by all players involved — is an important starting point in building the stronger and more collaborative biosecurity system we need to protect the environment and all other aspects of our lives — our economy, agricultural and tourism sectors and our way of life.

Plans for a strategy

The 2017 Craik independent review of biosecurity called for a ”unified strategic framework for the national biosecurity system”. Since then, a National Biosecurity Statement has been developed and the intergovernmental agreement between national and state/territory governments has been updated.

Most states and territories have a biosecurity strategy, with the Commonwealth government completing theirs earlier in the year. These are largely documents about what governments will do.

In 2021 federal, state and territory governments agreed that a national biosecurity strategy was needed, and the National Biosecurity Committee commenced work to finalise a strategy by March 2022.

An eight-member reference group was formed to provide strategic advice and consists of:

  • Invasive Species Council
  • Australian Banana Growers’ Council
  • Freight and Trade Alliance
  • National Farmers’ Federation
  • Rural Research and Development Corporations representative – Australian Pork Limited
  • Seafood Industry Australia
  • Torres Strait Regional Authority

Comments were sought on a discussion paper in October 2021 and a draft strategy will be released for comment in early February 2022.

After March 2022, an implementation plan will be developed that will specify the key actions. This is the most important part.

A strategy for 2030 or more of the same?

Australia’s biosecurity system is under increasing strain. The 2017 independent review found that risks from new pests, weeds and diseases are growing and we will be under-prepared for the challenges over the next decade. We need more collective investment and we need to operate differently. Those bearing the costs want more of a say.

Business as usual is not an option. A national biosecurity strategy has the potential to be the policy reset we need.

The Invasive Species Council is calling for a national biosecurity strategy that:

  • Is owned by all Australians, not merely a strategy of governments.
  • Declares 2021-2030 the Decade of Biosecurity, a uniting call to action to mobilise all Australians to help with our biosecurity challenges.
  • Puts in place sustainable long-term funding mechanisms.
  • Sets out new governance arrangements to bring the community and industry to the table to share decision-making on system design and responses.
  • Put the environment on an equal footing with other important areas requiring protection from the biosecurity system, such as agriculture.

The new strategy can be the centrepiece for actions that define 2021-2030 as the Decade of Biosecurity. This initiative, which draws on the successes of the high profile Decade of Landcare in the 1990s, is being advanced by the Invasive Species Council on behalf of the National Farmers’ Federation, Landcare Australia, National Landcare Network, Animal Health Australia, Plant Health Australia, NRM Regions Australia and the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.

All federal, state and territory governments have supported this decade to be the Decade of Biosecurity and plans are being developed about how best to create specific plans and to prepare for its launch.

Look out for the draft national biosecurity strategy in February and see how you can get behind it to make this decade a Decade of Biosecurity.

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