AUSVEG spokesperson Hugh Gurney said today that the Federal Government’s proposed new biosecurity legislation, which was debated in a Senate hearing today, failed to address a range of issues vital to Australian biosecurity and AUSVEG supported concerns raised by the Australian Greens about the legislation.
“While AUSVEG welcomes the Federal Government’s review of the 100-year-old Quarantine Act, as the National Peak Industry Body representing Australian vegetable and potato growers, we support the concerns raised by the Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne, that this Bill simply doesn’t address the serious issues raised by primary industries,” Mr Gurney said.
“Biosecurity is one of the most important matters to the Australian agricultural industry, and ensuring our nation stays free of devastating pests and diseases is of paramount importance for food production. AUSVEG does not believe the proposed legislation adequately protects Australia’s biosecurity,” Mr Gurney said.
“It is particularly concerning that much of the detail surrounding the accompanying regulations has yet to be released as this makes it difficult for industry to assess the practical implications of what is being proposed. The area of Import Risk Analysis has also been largely ignored,” Mr Gurney said.
“The proposed Bill is more regressive than the current legislation, concentrating the power to assess the risk of imports to Australian biosecurity to just one role. The protection of Australia’s diverse agricultural industries must not be placed in the hands of only one individual and the Import Risk Analysis process must be re-visited. The role of Director of Biosecurity should be independent of the Department of Agriculture to ensure proper oversight.”
“This legislation may well open Australia’s import risk assessments to potential challenges through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) due to potential conflict of interest with regard to this role,” said Mr Gurney.
“The fact that the Bill makes no provision for the Department of Environment is a serious oversight, considering that biosecurity is fundamentally related to the security of Australia’s plants and animals.”
AUSVEG has also been critical of the lack of consultation with industry. In August 2012, AUSVEG called for an extension to the consultation period relating to the Bill as large sections of the legislation had not been released to industry only eight days before it was due to close. The extension was granted.
“The entire coordination of the legislative review has been clumsy, and a serious overhaul will be required to guarantee that Australia’s biosecurity is not placed at risk.”
“There has been a concerning lack of transparency and consultation with industry in the development of this Bill and numerous stakeholders have raised concerns over the lack of detail provided in its development and implementation.”
“Australia is blessed with freedom from a number of exotic pests and diseases that curse agricultural industries overseas and to place that at risk with these proposed Bills would be farcical,” said Mr Gurney.