FARMERS won’t notice immediate changes after new legislation to update century-old biosecurity laws, according to Barnaby Joyce.
Mr Joyce said the Biosecurity Bill 2014, introduced into federal parliament last week, would update and modernise the Biosecurity Act that’s been in place since 1908.
“Actually on the farm there’s not going to be many changes at all except that you’re going to have a more updated, concise Act that is appropriate for 2014, even though it’s done a marvellous job since 1908,” he said.
“Some of the changes are going to save us money - we’ll be streamlining things in many instances which will actually be a saving.
“It’s actually a part of our red tape reduction task in that it actually reduces some of the onerous paperwork that was beyond its use by date.”
More government powers
The Bill contains criminal penalties for those who deliberately do the wrong thing in relation to biosecurity, and other powers to proportionately respond to those who inadvertently do the wrong thing, Mr Joyce said.
It is also expected to give the Commonwealth more powers to respond to serious biosecurity risks like foot and mouth disease (FMD) and to assist State and Territory governments in the management of a nationally significant pest or disease outbreak.
But Mr Joyce rejected suggestions the changes would hand too much power to authorities to investigate potential claims, such as the recent case of Western Australian cattle serum exporting company Serana.
Federal WA Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan recently raised concerns about a search warrant used by Mr Joyce’s Department last December to search Serana’s Bunbury premises.
The warrant was approved to allegedly pursue complaints about product being secured from a banned jurisdiction due to “understandable concerns” about FMD, she said.
But fallout from the raid led to Serana announcing it would close the doors on its $20 million per annum business and move overseas, costing Australian abattoirs an immediate $10 million loss per year on foetal bovine serum sales.
However, Mr Joyce said the Serana investigation was not a “bungled investigation”.
“You can buy bovine serum in some instances much cheaper overseas than you can buy it in Australia,” he said.
“So they (Serana) imported it from overseas and on the importation from overseas it just didn’t have the proper identification, as to where exactly this serum came from.
“And of course because it came from cattle it can carry diseases from cattle and the big one being foot and mouth.
“Now, the referral to us .... came from an extremely reputable organisation that said ‘we’ve got concerns about exactly what is happening’ here so we were pursuing that investigation.
“And it was not just for Serana - there were a number that we were watching,” he said.
“If foot and mouth had come in, and it could most definitely come in with that possible train, then we would have had devastation in our cattle industry and the questions that you would be rightly asking me now would be – why didn’t you stop it?
“We do have to be on the balls of our toes and we have to treat a criminal act in biosecurity like we treat criminal acts in other areas, and if we get intelligence as to what they’re doing, then we’ve got to get it.”
Mr Joyce said the revamped laws would also help to underpin the nation’s capacity to provide a clean, green image to the world for farm exports.
He said the Act had become “clumsy” which prompted a review by the former Labor government in 2012 “but they never got to finishing it – like everything else”.
“Part of our process of having an efficient and effective government ... is to actually get these Bills started, to get this process started so we can remain at the forefront of our game,” he said.
Inexplicable delays: Fitzgibbon
But Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said 95 per cent of the Bill was “exactly the same” as the Bill worked on by Labor in the previous regime.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the modernisation of the nation’s biosecurity regime wouldn’t occur until at least late next year.
He said that would equate to a delay of about two years by the Coalition on legislation it was claiming to be very important to the agricultural sector.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the delayed introduction of the Bill was “inexplicable”.
“Why would the government not have picked the ball up immediately after the last election on this?” he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon said biosecurity was emerging as the number one issue facing the farm sector, given the government’s recent tough budget cuts and speculation responsibility for biosecurity may be transferred over to the Immigration Department.
“It’s okay to secure greater market access into China, Korea and Japan but we need to do a lot more than that to develop market advantages form our clean and green image as a food producer,” he said.
In late April, Mr Joyce said biosecurity was not moving into Immigration from Agriculture but speculation has persisted.
Recently, he said the government must work “as seamlessly as we possibly can between agencies” to prevent pest and disease incursions like FMD, which is capable of causing in excess of $50 billion damage over the next 10 years.
“I thank very much the work that (Health Minister) Peter Dutton’s department has done in making sure that there is this seamless work between Health and Agriculture, in how we work together, because some diseases affect people, some affect animals and some, such as avian influenza, can go from one to the other.”