Keeping Australia safe from devastating pests and disease will be the focus of a $370 million federal government splurge announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison today.
- The government is set to throw hundreds of millions at biosecurity measures in the Budget
- Despite the closure of international borders, producers have continued to grapple with destructive pests
- Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says the PM’s announcement proves the government’s commitment to the sector
The funding, to be allocated in next week’s Budget, includes $67.4m for a “national surveillance information system” for Australia’s animal sector.
There’s almost $100m for an offshore assurance program to identify freight containers for intervention, $35m for research about how pests can enter Australia and $20m for a pre-border passenger screening trial.
There’s also $30m to improve biosecurity management of international mail and a $3.9m community and business awareness campaign.
“Protecting our borders is as much about protecting our livestock, crops and environment from diseases that have the potential to devastate them and the livelihoods they support,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison, who is at Beef Australia 2021 in Rockhampton, said Australia’s biosecurity system safeguarded the $42-billion inbound tourism industry and $53b in agricultural exports.
“This investment is about putting a protective ring around Australia to safeguard industry as well as the rural and regional communities that depend on it,” he said.
Influx of pests
Despite COVID-19 restrictions closing Australian borders last year, primary producers have faced an onslaught of pest incursions, including the fall armyworm and white spot disease in prawns.
Even with the introduction of tough biosecurity laws in 2019, meat carrying African swine fever fragments has been detected in alarming quantities at Australian mail centres and airports, while last year khapra beetle was found in white goods imported by a major retailer.
Agriculture groups have been calling for increased biosecurity funding and today’s announcement is likely to prove popular with farmers who were disappointed by the government’s decision to axe plans for a biosecurity levy that would have taxed importers.
GrainGrowers CEO Dave McKeon said the organisation welcomed the government’s investment “toward modernising Australia’s biosecurity system”.
“These investments are going to help give our biosecurity system the capability it needs to ensure that we can keep farming Australia’s grains sustainably and profitably,” he said.
Mr McKeon said impacts on the Australian grains industry from the khapra beetle alone could rise up to $15.5 billion over 20 years, according to government reports.
In 2018, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced that the government would raise $325m over three years through the levy, which proposed to charge $10 per 20-foot shipping container and $1 per tonne on bulk imports.
The 2019 Budget saw that deadline postponed, but legislation for the levy was never introduced and last year a statement from the Department of Agriculture confirmed it would not go ahead.
Speaking as part of the announcement today, Mr Littleproud said the funding demonstrated the government’s “commitment to the agriculture sector and unique environment”.
According to the government, a recent study by the University of Melbourne suggested the value of the biosecurity system was $314b over 50 years.
More than 2.5m containers and 60m mail items arrived in Australia last year.