The Australian Government’s most critical responsibility in agriculture is biosecurity: keeping us relatively pest and disease free, and protecting our reputation as a provider of clean, green, high quality, safe food.
But alarmingly for farmers and consumers the Turnbull Government has now officially put biosecurity reform on the never-never.
Biosecurity is a joint Commonwealth-State responsibility. The former Labor Government rewrote the old Quarantine Act (creating the new Biosecurity Act) and in 2012 struck an historic Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the States and Territories to ensure a modern and harmonised national approach. Ministers agreed in 2012 that the IGA should have a five year duration with a review undertaken in 2017.
In July 2017, the Review Panel’s report and recommendations for change and improvement was delivered to Commonwealth and State Ministers. The Report made 42 recommendations aimed at strengthening Australia's biosecurity system over the next five to ten years. Sadly, Barnaby Joyce – the Commonwealth Minister and Chair – did not attend the AgMin meeting. However, in a joint statement, Ministers said they would “work together to create a refreshed intergovernmental agreement to be agreed by mid-2018”.
Unfortunately having abolished the COaG committee for Agriculture Ministers, Barnaby Joyce only had its replacement – AgMin – meet on an ad-hoc basis and this is equating to once each year. In a demonstration of failed Commonwealth leadership, at last Friday’s AgMin meeting, consideration of the panel’s review was deferred until the next meeting, presumably 12 months away.
From July 1, 2018, there will be no Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity. The Turnbull Government has again failed to show leadership or responsibility and has failed our farmers and consumers.
Recent outbreaks of White Spot Disease in our prawn sector and Fruit Fly in our horticulture sector are critical reminders of the need to have the very best harmonised biosecurity framework.
The Turnbull Government will shoulder the responsibility for any future outbreak or incursions.