08 July 2020
Who does this notice affect?
All industry stakeholders involved in imports due to the escalation of COVID-19 measures in the state of Victoria.
What has changed?
The Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment recognises the challenges facing importers, those involved in the import supply chain and industry operators reliant on goods and materials that are subject to biosecurity controls. The department remains committed to maintaining the integrity and operation of import supply chains and the management of associated biosecurity risks.
The department is responding to rapidly changing circumstances while working to protect people and businesses and continuing to safeguard Australian agriculture and our environment from the threat of pests and other diseases.
The department has received enquiries about how it is approaching its staffing, regulatory and operational obligations to respond to the COVID-19 situation. This document outlines the department’s approach.
Biosecurity inspections and audits
The department’s role in biosecurity is underpinned by inspections and audits. These are essential elements to manage biosecurity risks.
These activities conducted by our staff typically require access to premises where goods subject to biosecurity are dealt with. Accordingly, on-site inspections and audits must continue in most circumstances.
Where practical, and subject to risk-based decision-making, the department has implemented alternative processes for some activities in certain circumstances. This has enabled some audit activities, for example, to be carried out through the implementation of remote processes.
The department continues to consider and refine alternative procedures for its activities in response to public health measures and impacts. This applies, in particular, to those government and industry operators directly involved in the COVID-19 response.
Department staff accessing facilities
We require our departmental staff to be aware of, and comply with, work health and safety procedures, health and hygiene requirements, and protective equipment.
Advice to departmental staff on the department’s response to COVID-19 is regularly updated to respond to the changing circumstances. Staff are regularly updated by the department to ensure that they are following the latest departmental health and safety procedures. The department’s current advice is that any staff member that is feeling unwell, or who has a communicable disease, must not present for work.
The department also has its own work, health and safety responsibility to its employees. It is required that any change in the health status of your premises (i.e. a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 of someone that has been at your premises) is communicated to the department as soon as possible. The department also expects you to follow government guidelines for maintaining social distancing between your staff and departmental employees.
Approved Arrangements: Border surveillance
The department’s biosecurity officers are also required to enter third party premises (Approved Arrangements) in order to conduct border surveillance. Members of the department’s National Border Surveillance (NBS) team may contact an Approved Arrangement to arrange a visit so they can conduct surveillance of the premises to ensure that no exotic pests or diseases are present. This can include installing traps that may be used to conduct monitoring as a way of confirming that a particular exotic pest is absent. Your collaboration with these surveillance officers helps to ensure that Australia remains free from major exotic pests and diseases.
Impact of COVID-19 on the department’s workforce
There has been minimal impact on the availability of the department’s workforce at this point in time.
The department has active business continuity and contingency plans in place and has activated these as circumstances require. These plans help to ensure that imported goods can continue to enter Australia with appropriate management of the biosecurity risks.
Approved Arrangements: Pre-approval audits
The department’s biosecurity officers are required to enter third party premises (Approved Arrangements) in order to conduct pre-approval audits. Where a biosecurity officer is unable to enter a site to conduct a pre-approval audit, the department cannot issue an approval. Accordingly, operators who have submitted an approved arrangements application, but who do not permit the audit to proceed are encouraged to withdraw their application or it will be refused.
Approved Arrangements: Site inactivity
Many enterprises may experience a significant slowdown in activity. In some cases, this may include a temporary (or permanent) interruption of activities at their Approved Arrangement site. In these circumstances, the department will work with operators to consider temporary suspensions or variations of the arrangement or voluntary revocation.
Approved Arrangements: Medical-related
The department is committed to facilitating the work of frontline public health response operators. Accordingly, the department has implemented processes to ensure there is no impediment to this vital work.
The department will continue to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 situation and will advise industry of any changes to audit and inspection processes.
The department will continue to update this advice as needed.
Importers are encouraged to check our website regularly for up to date information.