Biosecurity Import Supply Chain Roundtables

4 March 2021

On Friday, 26 February 2021 the department hosted two virtual biosecurity forums to identify issues and solutions in the delivery of biosecurity assessment and inspection services, reform priorities and biosecurity funding arrangements.

Departmental delegates met with 19 industry representatives across the import and logistics sector, including members of the Biosecurity Futures Group. The second forum involved a range of importers, with discussions across both generating positive outcomes.

Deputy Secretary Andrew Tongue opened the forums and discussed how COVID-19 and climatic changes are altering the biosecurity landscape, with new risks emerging due to trade from non-traditional sources, changes to consumer purchasing habits, more frequent arrival of hitchhiker pests in sub-standard containers, and changes in pest and disease distribution.

Deputy Secretary Tongue stressed that the integrity of the biosecurity system is paramount. However, the speed in which people and goods can move across the border is equally important, particularly for our economic recovery from COVID. Both objectives can be achieved through more innovative ways of operating and more effective partnerships with industry to manage increasing biosecurity risk.

First Assistant Secretary Biosecurity Operations, Col Hunter, discussed the work the department undertakes pre-border, at the border and post-border, and the initiatives underway to reduce manual handling through automation and virtual inspections.  He also noted recent changes to assessment and inspections had provided some relief for industry but that these were temporary fixes and not sustainable in the medium to long term.  Significant reform is required in the department’s import systems, some of which are over 30 years old. Securing access to better data and intelligence along supply chains would also help to reduce the risk of harmful pests and diseases coming to Australia.

Industry representatives were asked to provide their top priorities for reform and for their views on current biosecurity funding arrangements.  Several common themes emerged, including:

  • potential to leverage industry technology and supply chain assurance processes to manage biosecurity risks
  • need for approved arrangements to be more agile
  • authorisation for industry to undertake biosecurity activities at approved arrangement sites, where the same or better biosecurity outcome can be achieved
  • shift in focus from documentation management to biosecurity system management
  • increased two-way sharing of information to avoid duplication and help ensure government and industry initiatives are complementary
  • need for appropriate assurance and monitoring of any changes to delivery of biosecurity assessment and inspection services
  • need for biosecurity to be appropriately resourced and for greater transparency of the funding needs and how the funds are used.

Importer representatives raised similar issues, adding:

  • the complexity of the biosecurity system and how the risk profile is changing as evidenced by the recent Khapra beetle incursion in cardboard packaging used for goods considered low risk which were imported from regions at a time that was also considered low risk 
  • not all businesses can track container movement across their supply chain
  • need for a multi-layered approach to intervention (machinery parts stored inside pose a different risk to large machinery stored outside)
  • approved arrangements to be sector specific as well as agile (eg. apply to all importers of furniture or large machinery); this would serve to facilitate sector wide best practice.

Attendees at both forums appreciated the opportunity to express their concerns and reform priorities, and agreed to reconvene in smaller, targeted groups over the coming weeks to identify and implement quick wins to relieve some immediate pressures. The department agreed to investigate the use of importer photographs of containers before the goods depart for Australia; areas of overlap/duplication with the Australian Border Force; removal of outdated documents from systems; and issues around congested empty container parks. 

Further conversations would be had on longer term reform of the biosecurity system, with a potential face to face meeting before 30 June 2021. 

Attendees also agreed to provide information on the costs of import delays to inform the development of a shared narrative to drive system reform.