A new $371 million federal biosecurity funding package announced by the Prime Minister today will strengthen Australia’s ability to stop new pests and diseases from entering the country but leaves unanswered questions of how to build a sustainable biosecurity funding model.
“Up until now our biosecurity system has relied heavily on goodwill and good luck as the number of pests and diseases detected at our air and sea borders rises,” Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said today.
“This funding package is a strong step in modernising Australia’s biosecurity system and closes several major gaps by fixing important structural issues and investing in much-needed technology.
“A focus on the risks from pests and diseases hitchhiking into Australia hidden in containers and the recognition of the threat from northern Australia is a good strategic investment that will pay off for decades to come.
“Improving pre-border compliance and boosting surveillance at the border will make it easier to detect all pests and diseases that if established in Australia could threaten our environment, our farmers and our tourism industries.”
The Invasive Species Council welcomed a new $3.9 million initiative to increase community and business awareness of biosecurity issues as part of the package announced today.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, we cannot rely on government action alone to protect us from overseas threats, community and business must be an integral part of all efforts to halt the flow of new pests and diseases into Australia.”
However, the new one-off funding leaves open the question of how to provide stable funds for a strained biosecurity system at both federal and state levels over the coming decades.
A planned biosecurity import levy that would have generated $325 million in its first three years of operation alone was abandoned in 2020 due to push-back from importers.
The levy originally planned to charge $10 on every 20-foot equivalent container and was designed to generate more revenue as trade volumes increased. It would have provided an ongoing biosecurity fighting fund for Australia.
“As the biosecurity risks from human, environmental and agricultural pests and diseases inevitably rises through increased global trade and travel, the base-level funding to protect Australia needs to rise,” Mr Cox said.
Earlier in the year the Inspector-General of Biosecurity gave a scathing report on Australia’s level of investment in biosecurity.
The report said the “lack of a practical and sustainable funding model is having a tangible impact on the department’s current and future readiness”.