Greens say reforms needed for modern, responsive biosecurity system

MEDIA RELEASE – 12 March 2015

The Greens NSW spokesperson on agriculture Jeremy Buckingham today launched the Greens biosecurity policies for the NSW election, saying that urgent reforms are needed to improve the independence and accountability of biosecurity and calling for the establishment of a $5 million emergency response fund for environmental pests and diseases.

“We cannot take short cuts when it comes to biosecurity. The costs to agriculture, our economy and to our environment are far too great to muck around when it comes to preventing and eradicating new pests, diseases and weeds in NSW,” said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.

“Numerous independent reports, both federally and in NSW, have been calling for some time for urgent reform of our biosecurity system to ensure it is tenure-neutral, well-resourced and scientifically based.

“That is why the Greens have developed a comprehensive package of policy reforms which will ensure there is independent oversight, an increased focus on responding to environmental threats, and improved ability to rapidly respond to new incursions,” Mr Buckingham said.

The Greens NSW have developed a comprehensive Biosecurity policy which includes:

  1. The establishment of a $5 million High Risk Incursion Response Fund
    2. The introduction of 3 yearly State of Biosecurity reporting
    3. The adoption of a ‘permitted list’ approach to the sale of plants
    4. The establishment of an Independent, statutory State Biosecurity Committee
    5. Joint responsibility for biosecurity to be given to both the Agriculture and Environment Ministers

Mr Buckingham said: “The NSW Natural Resources Commission has recommended that a ‘high risk incursion fund’ be established, however, the government has dragged its feet and failed to establish this. The Greens policy is for $5 million to be set aside in a dedicated fund that can be used for on-ground works for immediate response to new high-risk incursions.

“The introduction of a State of Biosecurity report every three years, will ensure that we have relevant and up to date information about the status and condition of existing biosecurity risks, trends and future threats as well as the effectiveness of existing programs.

“It is alarming that, despite the annual cost of weeds to agriculture and the public being about $1.8 billion in NSW alone, the NSW Government has refused to provide the independence and regulatory teeth necessary to ensure that we have an effective approach to preventative weed control.

“The Greens policy is for the implementation of a ‘permitted list’ approach to the sale of plants in NSW, as this is an essential step to ensuring that new and potentially devastating weeds do not infest our agricultural land and fragile ecosystems.

“It is clear that for a biosecurity regime to be effective it must be independent of government and scientifically based. So the Greens policy is for the establishment of an independent State Biosecurity Committee with statutory powers to enforce compliance by government agencies.

“In a shocking display of short-sightedness, since coming to office the Coalition have cut the budget for biosecurity by $5.6 million including 50 staff positions. They have also redirected a further $19 million over five years to monitoring amateur hunting in national parks instead of addressing front line biosecurity threats.

“We cannot continue to tinker at the edges, the Natural Resources Commission have recently recommended wholesale reform to the biosecurity system and the Greens will continue to campaign for a modern, responsive biosecurity regime in NSW,” Mr Buckingham said.

Contact: Jack Gough – 9230 2202 or 0427 713 101

NSW Greens Policy Initiative

Reforms needed for a modern, responsive biosecurity system

We cannot take short cuts when it comes to biosecurity. The costs to agriculture, our economy and to our environment are far too great to muck around when it comes to preventing and eradicating new pests, diseases and weeds in NSW.

The Greens support a tenure-neutral, well-resourced and scientifically based approach to biosecurity which focuses on prevention and eradication. To achieve the Greens NSW have developed a comprehensive Biosecurity policy which includes:

  1. The establishment of a $5 million High Risk Incursion Response Fund
    2. The introduction of 3 yearly State of Biosecurity reporting
    3. The adoption of a ‘permitted list’ approach to the sale of plants
    4. The establishment of an Independent, statutory State Biosecurity Committee
    5. Joint responsibility for biosecurity to be given to both the Agriculture and Environment Ministers

The cost of failure in biosecurity can be devastating.

Pest animals such as foxes, deer and wild dogs and pigs cost our agriculture sector about $720 million per year and are contributing to the decline of many native animals (in particular, bird and reptile species), including approximately 40% of NSW’s threatened species.

Environmental weeds are having a devastating impact on NSW’s biodiversity. According to a 2006 study, weeds threaten at least 341 vulnerable and endangered species (40% of those listed in NSW in 2006) and 64 endangered ecological communities (89% of the total).

It is estimated that pests and weeds cost Australia at least $7 billion a year and that as much as twenty five percent of costs to consumers associated with food products are due to invasive weeds, pests and diseases.

A 12 month outbreak of foot and mouth disease would reduce Australia’s gross domestic product by up to $16.7 billion over 10 years, a 12 month long incursion of the wheat disease Karnal bunt would result in a loss of $350 million and a national outbreak of citrus canker would result in a loss in the order of $400million.

But in a shocking display of short-sightedness, since coming to office the O’Farrell/Baird government has cut the budget for biosecurity by $5.6 million including 50 staff positions. They have also redirected a further $19 million over five years to monitoring amateur hunting in national parks instead of addressing front line biosecurity threats.

1. Establish a $5 million High Risk Incursion Response Fund

The most effective way to stop new biosecurity incursions, including weeds, invasive animals or diseases is through early detection and rapid response.

There are currently well established arrangements for rapidly responding to diseases which are agricultural threats, such as foot and mouth disease, under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) which ensure that funding is immediately available to address the threat. There are no such arrangements in place for responding to weeds and environmental threats such as Mrytle Rust, which is devastating our eucalyptus and tea tree forests.

For this reason the Greens are proposing this establishment of a $5 million High Risk Incursion Response Fund, which would be separate from, and in addition to, current funding arrangements for biosecurity. The establishment of such a fund was supported by the Natural Resources Commission in its recent review of weed management in NSW and has broad support from environmental and industry stakeholders.

The fund would be used for on-ground works for immediate response to new high-risk incursions, and not for ongoing eradication efforts if a weed, pest or disease has become established. Resources from the fund would be available for use on both public and private land as eradication of emerging threats is essential, regardless of land tenure.

2. Introduce 3 yearly State of Biosecurity reporting

In order to have a modern, responsive biosecurity system in NSW it is imperative that we have relevant and up to date information about the status and condition of existing biosecurity risks, trends and future threats as well as the effectiveness of existing programs. Currently in NSW a State of the Environment report is produced every 3 years and this is a vital part of ensure the Government is accountable and their performance can be assessed. The cost of failure when it comes to biosecurity is way too high for serious problems to remain undetected due to lack of information or public scrutiny, so the Greens policy if for 3 yearly State of Biosecurity reporting.

The report on the state of biosecurity would look at the following matters:

a) an assessment of the status and conditions of biosecurity risk in the State,
b) an examination of biosecurity trends and future threats, including the implications for the environment, industry and human health,
c) a review of the programs and activities related to biosecurity, including those related to government, industry and communities,
d) an examination of economic trends and of the costs and benefits (including economic evaluation) of biosecurity,
e) any general recommendations for future legislative or other action appropriate to ensure the State’s biosecurity,
f) a statement on the performance and suitability of biosecurity education programs in the State.

3. Adopt a ‘permitted list’ approach to the sale of plants

Currently in NSW, people and nurseries can legally sell and plant hundreds of different species that are, or have the potential to become, significant environmental or agricultural weeds. About three-quarters of the exotic weedy species found in Australia started out as cultivated plants and gardens comprise the major pool of future weeds.

Western Australia has adopted an innovative regulatory response to this threat called a ‘permitted’ or ‘white list’ approach. In NSW the current regulatory approach, known as the ‘prohibited list’ or ‘black list’ approach, is for the sale and movement of all plant species to be permitted except for those that are specifically banned. In Western Australia by contrast they have developed a Permitted List of all plants that can be legally sold, and any plants which are not on this list are banned.

The Greens policy is for the adoption of this approach in NSW to stop the unrestricted movement of thousands of weeds or potential weeds within the state.

4. Establish an Independent, statutory State Biosecurity Committee

The Greens believe that central to a modern, responsive biosecurity system is independent scientific decision making and accountability. Biosecurity should not be subject to the whims of politics and this position is supported by environmental and agricultural stakeholders including the Invasive Species Council and NSW Farmers Association. In order to ensure this the Greens policy is for the establishment of an independent, statutory State Biosecurity Committee, composed of scientific experts, a representative of NSW Farmers Association and the Nature Conservation Council and government representatives. This will give the committee broad representation and ensure that decision making is rigorous and accountable.

The State Biosecurity Committee would have the following functions:

a) to audit and report on compliance by government agencies with their biosecurity obligations
b) to produce the 3 yearly state of biosecurity report
c) to make recommendations to the Minister about plants for the permitted list
d) to make decisions regarding the use of the High Risk Incursion Response Fund
e) to promote a co-ordinated strategic approach to biosecurity issues,
f) to review the biosecurity aspects of any local strategic plans prepared by Local Land Services boards and provide feedback to the Minister as to whether they are consistent with State policy and the principles of this Act,
g) to provide policy advice on biosecurity issues

5. Give joint responsibility for biosecurity to both the Agriculture and Environment Ministers

The Greens are concerned that too often in biosecurity funding and decision making environmental protection is not given equal consideration with agricultural protection. The Greens believe that a modern, responsive biosecurity system can and must pay stronger consideration to the importance of preventing and eradicating potentially devastating environmental biosecurity threats.

Currently Ministerial responsibility for biosecurity rests solely with the Minister for Agriculture. The Greens policy is for the Minister for Agriculture to have responsibility for decision making where biosecurity decisions relate solely to agricultural threats, the Minister for Environment to have responsibility for decision making where it relates solely to environmental threats and for joint sign off to be required where issues affect both agriculture and the environment.

So for example this would mean that if there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease or citrus canker, the Minister for Agriculture would be responsible for the emergency response. On the other hand, responding to an environmental threat such as Myrtle Rust be would be the Minister for the Environment’s responsibility.

One comment

  • If the greens truly held concern regarding biosecurity, they would be supporting the proposed agricultural protection legislation. Unfortunately they do not. Therefore they are, again, lying shallowly to the rural Australians who feed their constituents. When the Greens understand the needs of rural Australians they may still consider pulling the wool over our eyes. However, it won’t work then either.

    Like

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