Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Australian Biosecurity: here we go again.....

The Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources from 21.9.15 to 27.10.17 
and from 6.12.17 to 20.12.17 was Nationals MP for New England Barnaby 

The current Agriculture and Water Resources Minister since 20.12.17 is 
Nationals MP for Maranoa David Littleproud, a former banker who has been 
in federal parliament for less than two years.

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection from 23.12.14 onwards 
and Minister for Home Affairs since 20.12.17 is Liberal MP for Dickson 
Peter Dutton.

These three men between them have brought Australian biosecurity to its 
knees and kept it there.

Funding cuts, staffing cuts and poorly planned reorganisation made sure a 
failing biosecurity system ensued.

The story so far.......

ABC News, 21 February 2017:

Quarantine staff feared three years ago staff cuts would threaten the 
biosecurity of Australia's multi-million-dollar agricultural industries.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) surveyed 300 of its 
members in 2014 and found two thirds said "Australia's biosecurity 
has become worse or significantly worse over the past decade due 
to declining standards and increasing risks".

The figures have been reviewed as the Queensland Government 
moves to spend about $15 million on south-east prawn farms while 
white spot disease is traced and eradicated.

It is unknown what caused the white spot disease outbreak that has 
shut down the Logan River prawn farms, where prawns with a combined 
value of $25 million have been euthanased, but tests have shown white 
spot on imported frozen prawns from Asia.

Tight budget puts pressure on capacity

CPSU deputy national secretary Rupert Evans said the clear view of 
members was that budget cuts, the adoption of a risk-based approach, 
and industry self-regulation would lead to more biosecurity incursions.

"Our members would be saddened and even gutted that they might be 
proven right," he said.

The biosecurity approach is based on risk analysis and shared 
responsibility between governments and industry under the 
Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity.

A review of the IGAB found a tight fiscal environment for governments 
had placed significant pressure on biosecurity budgets and their 
capacity to meet biosecurity commitments.

Not enough people on job

The union said it worried about the impact of efficiency measures.

"In 2013-14 there was a more than 10 per cent cut to the budget to 
Department of Agriculture biosecurity, and it was said at the time, this 
was going to lead to not enough people to do the job," Mr Evans said.

"Another part of risk-based intervention is that it needs to be based on 
sound and unbiased evidence, not just on simply reducing costs.

Inspector-General of Biosecurity, Review report no. 2017–18/01, December 
2017, excerpt:

In 2016–17, the major WSD outbreak in Queensland prawn farms led to a 
six-month suspension of uncooked prawn imports into Australia. Very 
high levels of WSSV were found in imported uncooked prawns, destined 
for retail outlets across the country, which had already passed, Australia’s 
border biosecurity controls. This indicated a major failure of Australia’s 
biosecurity system, which was not providing an appropriate level of 

During this review, I found several deficiencies in the management of the 
biosecurity risk of uncooked prawn imports, with broader implications for 
Australia’s biosecurity risk management more generally. I found that 
specific policy elements and their implementation had sowed the seeds 
of failure many years before, while progressive and cumulative acts, 
omissions and systemic factors at many levels exacerbated the risks over 
time. Many of these failings have been swiftly addressed by the department 
and other stakeholders, but more needs to be done to manage the biosecurity 
risks of prawn imports in the future. I have made recommendations to improve 
this biosecurity risk management framework and its ability to deal with 
ongoing and emerging challenges. Long-term adequate resourcing will be a 
key success factor in this endeavour.

The importation of uncooked prawns and other seafood into Australia will 
continue to pose significant and changing challenges for the department 
and industry. The recent WSD outbreak in Queensland, and the subsequent 
findings of massive importation of WSSV-infected prawns, despite previous 
import requirements intended to keep this virus out, highlight the need for the department to remain vigilant, proactively review and update import requirements and policies, and maintain excellent communication with both government and industry stakeholders. Above all, detecting and deterring deliberate or inadvertent failures to implement biosecurity risk management policies effectively must be a priority. Governments and aquatic industries must cooperate to resource and implement these efforts. Failure to do so will imperil the future development of a sustainable and profitable aquaculture sector in Australia.

ABC News, 2 July 2018:

A highly destructive virus has again been detected in supermarket prawns 
despite tightened import restrictions introduced after a disease outbreak 
decimated south-east Queensland's prawn farming industry.

The shock results come as a Four Corners investigation reveals how some 
ruthless seafood importers have been deliberately evading Australia's 
biosecurity defences in a hunt for profit, exploiting a quarantine regime 
identified as "remarkably naive" in a top-level inquiry.

The revelations raise troubling questions about the nature of Australia's preparedness to combat a slew of exotic diseases and pests that have 
the potential to wreak carnage on the economy.

Brian Jones, former adviser to the Inspector-General of Biosecurity, 
said the incursion of white spot disease in 2016 "won't be the last".

"The Government is not fulfilling its duty to protect the border," he said.
In the face of soaring international trade, scientists, industry executives 
and former government officials have told Four Corners that Australia's 
biosecurity defences have been simply inadequate…..

In a scathing review Mr Jones co-authored, the Inspector-General found the devastating outbreak of white spot was "a major failure of Australia's 
biosecurity system".

Critical to this failure was a policy decision that allowed seafood importers 
to unpack shipping containers into cold stores unsupervised by any 
government officials.

The policy afforded rogue players days and sometimes weeks to disguise 
dodgy consignments from inspectors, including by substituting diseased 
prawns for clean ones.

The Inspector-General found the department had placed "too much trust 
in importers to do the right thing".

"The department demonstrated a remarkable level of naivety about the 
potential for importers to wilfully circumvent import conditions for any 
class of prawns that required viral testing."

The department conceded to Four Corners there were "significant 
shortcomings in its handling of this issue", and insisted it had "taken 
substantial action to address them".

Import conditions were tightened midway through last year after a 
six-month trade suspension was lifted.

As of July 2017, no containers could be opened except by biosecurity 

Yet the virus — which poses no harm to humans — has reared its head 

In April, Queensland officials identified the virus in the wild, at locations 
in the northern reaches of Moreton Bay.

Then, in late May, the Department of Agriculture quietly released a note 
that said 12 consignments of prawns — stopped at the wharves under 
the new "enhanced" regime — had tested positive for the disease.

Fresh testing reveals white spot

Now, Four Corners can reveal the virus is still getting past the 
department's frontline.

Testing conducted for the program found traces of the virus present in 
30 per cent of prawn samples purchased from a range of supermarket 
outlets in the south-east Queensland area.

The samples were examined by University of the Sunshine Coast 
professor Wayne Knibb, an expert in the genetics of marine animals. 
He tested green prawns from 10 major retail outlets.

"We found about a third of the material that we looked had evidence 
of white spot DNA in it," he said.

Professor Knibb's testing has been independently verified by a separate 

"Clearly, if we can find in a very limited sample 30 per cent of samples 
that were in the history connected or in contact with the virus, then 
clearly we're playing with fire here," he said.

"We have a route of a virus that is a particularly dangerous virus and 
shown worldwide just how destructive it can be. It's damaged whole 
national economies, and it's cost billions of dollars."

ABC TV “Four Corners”, 2 July 2018:

Four Corners has confirmed that supermarket-bought prawns are still 
being used by recreational fishers on the Logan River upstream from 
prawn farms…..

 It has been put to us that some front-line officers working for the 
Department over the past decade have engaged in any or several of 
the following: corrupt conduct including the acceptance of financial 
benefits from importers, and the extortion of some importers in return 
for financial benefits. Is the Department's aware of any cases of this 
nature or similar in the past decade?

All allegations of corruption in this area of our business are referred 
to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI). 
We cannot comment on current or ongoing investigations for 
operational security reasons. ACLEI have investigated a number of 
matters involving corrupt conduct of departmental staff and publish 
all results on their website.

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