What is Australia’s biosecurity system? Who is responsible for it? How would you describe the system that protects Australia from invasive plants, animals and diseases?
These are questions a group of 10 or so people from government, industry and community groups, including the Invasive Species Council, have been grappling with.
Until now there has been no simple go-to statement explaining our biosecurity system from the perspective of its various participants.
This deficiency was recognised by last year’s national biosecurity review, which proposed a national biosecurity statement that ‘outlines a common and unifying approach to biosecurity for all system participants’.
Our biosecurity system is a product of all our actions. As travellers and consumers, we are the reason people and goods move around the county and the globe. We create the biosecurity risks that can harm our environment and economy, and we play an essential role in reducing these risks. That is reflected in the recently accepted foundational principle of the biosecurity system – shared responsibility.
Our group embraced this spirit. We have met (in person and by phone) four times. There was give-and-take and plenty of generosity, writing and rewriting in creating the desired one-page statement. At times, while we struggled for the right words, a horticultural industry representative would draft eloquent words about the values of the natural environment and an environmental representative would add words to ensure that economic interests were properly included.
How did it turn out?
Read it for yourself. While the statement could do with some polishing to remove the occasional clunkiness derived from its committee-based origins, it has the important basics.
The statement treats the natural environment in an equal way to other beneficiaries like agricultural industries and the community. It highlights the clear benefits of prevention and early action and emphasises we should strive to prevent and limit new invasive species arriving and establishing in Australia – keeping this risk to a ‘very low level’. It acknowledges the terrible burden from those invasive species already in Australia and the long-term challenge of dealing with established pests, weeds and diseases. It reminds us that biosecurity is everybody’s duty.
The statement ends strongly:
“We all share the risks, we all share the benefits and therefore we must all share the responsibility in protecting our unique natural environment.”
The statement doesn’t say everything, but it says the most important things.
This process was very different to most biosecurity-related deliberations and reflects the approach adopted by the Queensland government in the development and implementation of their biosecurity strategy. Biosecurity partners co-wrote the Queensland strategy, rather than being consulted about it.
Not all of the statement was developed in this way. The roles and responsibilities table was written by government, and could be simplified and improved.
The Invasive Species Council will be involved in finalising the statement before it is presented to the national biosecurity roundtable on 29 November and then to agricultural ministers – unfortunately not environment ministers – for final ratification.
Submissions are due by 31 October. If you like the statement, please say so. If you think it could be improved, say how.