Our national Biosecurity Bill 2014 will soon undergo its second reading debate in the Australian Senate. Scheduled for
18 May, this review presents a much-needed opportunity for the Bill’s legislation to be strengthened and for community members to help make sure it happens.
For several years Wildlife Queensland has joined like- minded organisations in campaigning for effective national legislation so that the threat feral animals and invasive plants pose to our biodiversity is minimised. The legislation going to the senate in May has been at least five years in the making and crossed the paths of both major political parties. Yet from Wildlife Queensland’s perspective, the Bill requires further strengthening if the legislation is to be effective.
The Biosecurity Bill 2014 is part of a five-bill regulatory framework which reflects and replaces the Quarantine Act 1908 to manage issues such as biosecurity risks and give effect to Australia’s international rights and obligations including the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992. The Bill was first introduced into the House of Representatives in November 2014 and eventually agreed to in February 2015, progressing to the Senate in the same month.
For at least 5 years our federal politicians have been debating ways to improve the laws that protect Australia from the unwanted pests from overseas that threaten our agricultural industries, our environment and even our way of life. Fire ants have forced some people to abandon their thongs in certain parts of Queensland and New South Wales; myrtle rust is threatening a range of species putting the fauna dependent on those species at risk; the Asian black-spined toad is now calling Melbourne and Sydney home. There is absolutely no doubt that current laws and their application are not working.
In spite of submissions and even a recent senate inquiry into biosecurity in Australia, the legislation surrounding our biosecurity requires strengthening. We may not be able to ensure that our government provides adequate resources to guarantee rigorous compliance and enforcement programs, but we do have an opportunity to help put the appropriate legislation in place.
Wildlife Queensland strongly supports the recommendations advocated by the Invasive Species Council in order that amendments to the legislation reflect the following:
- a separate role for Australia’s federal environment minister and environment department
- improved transparency and reporting, including a State of Biosecurity report
- factoring in climate change, new genetic variations and regional differences during risk assessments
- appeal rights for third parties
- application of the precautionary principle
- adoption of the general biosecurity obligation
- improved definition for the environment
- special measures to protect Australia’s islands.
The establishment of an independent statutory oversight regime is paramount. This need is also being advocated by the Law Council of Australia, the peak national body of the Australian legal profession.
As we all know, prevention is better (and cheaper) than cure. Australia already has a major and costly battle on its hands with the feral animals, invasive plants and diseases that threaten our biodiversity. With over $300M already spent on fire ants alone since 2001 and eradication nowhere in sight, the smart thing to do is strengthen our legislation.
This can be achieved if members of the Senate, followed by the House of Representatives, hear our voices loud and clear. Wildlife Queensland urges you to take action. A tough stand is needed – please let our senators know that our national Biosecurity Bill needs strengthening.