This guide will help you prepare a submission for the senate inquiry into preventing new invasive species. While submissions closed in mid August 2014, if you have important information it will still be helpful if you contact the Senate committee Secretariat.
This guide provides information about the following topics:
- The importance of the inquiry >>
- The high economic cost of biosecurity weaknesses >>
- Incursions detected since 2000 likely to have serious impacts >>
- Major biosecurity gaps and flaws >>
- Major recommendations >>
Points to make in your submission
1. The importance of this inquiry
This inquiry is extremely important to the future of Australian biodiversity. Preventing new invasive species should be one of the government’s highest environmental priorities.
- Invasive species are having devastating impacts on biodiversity
- There is a high rate of new incursions
- Environmental biosecurity lags behind that for agriculture.
- The Australian environment already has a terrible burden of weeds, pests and diseases that have caused extinctions and massive declines in biodiversity. Invasive species, along with habitat loss and fire regimes, are the major causes of biodiversity loss. Australia has one of the worst records world-wide for invasive species harmful to the environment.
- There continues to be a high rate of new invasive species arriving and establishing in Australia. Many that have been detected since 2000 are likely to become serious threats to biodiversity – see examples below.
- Strong biosecurity is just as important for the environment as it is for agriculture, but there has been much more focus on agricultural risks. Many aspects of environmental biosecurity lag well behind those for agriculture. There has also been little parliamentary scrutiny of environmental biosecurity (since 2000, only 2 senate inquiries have had environmental relevance in contrast to 18 focused on agricultural biosecurity).
2. The high economic cost of biosecurity weaknesses
Failures to keep out environmental invaders have high economic as well as environmental costs, by:
- Putting eradication programs at-risk
- Wasting eradication funds
- Increasing the costs of saving threatened species & protecting national parks
- Costing industry
- New incursions of red imported fire ants blow out costs or put at risk the $400 million already spent on eradication. Repeat incursions of yellow crazy ants put at risk millions of dollars already spent or allocated for eradication ($2 million has recently been allocated for the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area).
- Several million dollars were spent on now abandoned eradication programs for Asian honeybees, myrtle rust and yellow crazy ants (apart from the Wet Tropics), which failed in part due to late detection, slow eradication or multiple incursions.
- Millions of dollars will have to be spent in future to protect threatened species and protected areas from these new invaders.
- Some recent invaders also have industry consequences, including myrtle rust, yellow crazy ants and Asian honeybees. Yellow crazy ants will be terrible for tourism in the Wet Tropics.
3. Incursions detected since 2000 likely to have serious impacts
Incursions detected since 2000 likely to have serious impacts on the environment include the following.
- Myrtle rust
- Asian black-spined toad
- Red-imported fire ant
- Mexican feather grass
- Smooth newt
- Pigeon paramyxovirus
- Yellow crazy ant
- Electric ant
- Asian honeybee
A deadly fungus found in 2010 in a NSW plant nursery now infecting hundreds of Myrtaceae species (our dominant plant family), including several threatened species.
Asian black-spined toad
Found this year on Melbourne’s outskirts and likely to have similar impacts to the cane toad but with the capacity to inhabit cooler areas. It is unknown whether it has established.
Red imported fire ant
One of the world’s worst invasive species with an intense sting that kills small mammals, birds and reptiles. A new incursion at Gladstone detected in 2014 put at risk the $400m spent since 2001 on eradication.
Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima)
A highly invasive ornamental grass that could dominate large areas of woodlands and grasslands. Despite it being illegal, it is in gardens and on-line traders are selling it.
Found this year in Melbourne, it preys on and competes with native frogs, fish and other species, and its skin is toxic. Eradication was not attempted.
A disease that arrived in Victoria three years ago that could infect a wide range of native bird species with a high rate of mortality.
Yellow crazy ant
Dominates areas and kills small animals, a major threat to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Multiple incursions have occurred.
Dominates areas, displaces native ants & kills small animals. Subject to eradication.
Likely to compete with native bees and pollinators. An eradication attempt was abandoned.
4. Major biosecurity gaps and flaws
The multitude of new incursions and repeated incursions of serious pests detected since 2000 suggest systemic flaws in biosecurity.
- Insufficient risk analysis
- Lack of contingency planning
- Insufficient surveillance
- Poor responses to incursions
- Failure to learn from failures
- Lack of transparency and reporting
- Limited enforcement
- Insufficient analysis of priority environmental risks and pathways, as demonstrated by the multiple incursions and by certain patterns of incursions (such as multiple entries of tramp ants).
- A lack of contingency planning for high priority environmental risks (in contrast to industry contingency plan through Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia). There is not even a comprehensive list of priority environmental risks.
- Insufficient surveillance: the latest incursion of red imported fire ants (discovered January 2014) may have occurred 2 years before they were detected, electric ants were in the country 3-4 years before detection. Late detection makes eradication difficult or impossible.
- A failure to initiate rapid and effective responses to incursions: There was a premature decision to not proceed with eradication of myrtle rust then a long delay before eradication was supported; no attempt at all to eradicate smooth newts; and probably premature withdrawal from Asian honeybee eradication. Queensland programs for yellow crazy ant eradication were long-delayed and underfunded, then abandoned. The national process for decisions on eradications lacks transparency and is too influenced by the short-term budgetary considerations of individual states.
- Failures to publicly review and learn from failures: Eg. in January 2013, the agricultural minister said ‘The department has not separately reviewed or assessed surveillance measures or decisions of National Management Group relating to the interim myrtle rust response.’ Environmental incursions have not triggered public reviews (or internal reviews as far as we are aware) to recommend improved biosecurity processes.
- Lack of transparency and reporting: There is no national public database on incursions. Decision-making by the National Management Group in response to incursions is not open to public scrutiny. There is little engagement of the environmental sector in biosecurity processes (in contrast to extensive engagement of industry). There has also been little parliamentary scrutiny.
- Limited enforcement: Eg. It is easy to buy banned serious weeds like Mexican feather grass off Ebay.
5. Major recommendations
To stop new invasive species that harm the environment, Australia needs to strengthen many aspects of biosecurity, including identification and assessment of environmental risks, contingency planning, surveillance, responses to new incursions, review of failures, enforcement and community engagement.
- Environment Health Australia
- Contingency planning
- Responses to incursions
- Public database
- Review failures
High priorities are to:
- Establish a new body – Environment Health Australia – to foster collaboration between governments, experts, industry and the community on environmental biosecurity, to focus on identifying priority invasive risks and pathways, developing contingency plans for high priority risks and monitoring progress.
- Mount more timely and effective responses to new incursions, with decisions to be transparent, precautionary, based on expert advice, and involve the community sector.
- Improve surveillance for priority species to allow for rapid responses.
- Learn from failures by maintaining a public database of incursions, and triggering an automatic process of independent public review of import risks after new incursions.
- Strengthen enforcement, including by identifying compliance priorities for environmental biosecurity and developing a strategy to limit risks from internet trade.
View our Senate inquiry references for full background information about this Senate inquiry.