A NEW campaign is demanding Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull set up a “fighting fund” to protect Australian agriculture and society at large from crippling biosecurity threats, like $50 billion losses inflicted by a large-scale foot and mouth disease outbreak.
Spearheaded by the Invasive Species Council, the biosecurity push titled “Protect Australia” is being driven via an electronic online letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to follow Barnaby Joyce’s footsteps as a “champion” of Australian biosecurity.
A copy of the templated campaign correspondence is also automatically being transmitted to the federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and state ministers relevant to the individual sender’s jurisdiction.
“Right now, Australia’s biosecurity system is like a leaky sieve,” the letter says.
“While it stops many agricultural threats from making it into our country and allows the free movement of passengers and goods, it often fails to keep out problematic environmental invaders.”
The campaign is demanding Mr Turnbull back some of the 42 critical recommendations made in the recent review of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB), which said greater government focus and investment was needed on preventative strategies to address biosecurity threats, rather than costly eradication programs.
The IGAB report recommended a legislated levy be implemented to raise funds in an ever-tightening political fiscal landscape, to be extended to farm commodity producers and controlled by the Federal Agriculture Minister, which is currently Mr Turnbull.
Mr Joyce is the former minister but he remains Nationals leader; despite having stepped down from his cabinet roles and Deputy Prime Minister’s position after being disqualified from parliament due to his dual NZ citizenship, to face a by-election to reclaim his New England electorate.
“The former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce was recognised as a champion for a strong Australian biosecurity system and that is why I urge you to support a number of recommendations made by the recent Intergovernment Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB) review,” the campaign letter to Mr Turnbull says.
“I support strengthening our biosecurity because I care deeply about protecting Australia from the threat of newly introduced pests, weeds and diseases – I want my government to protect our environment and economy against these threats.”
The campaign letter offers support for specific IGAB recommendations like number 34; to establish a biosecurity fighting fund, sourced through a levy on air and sea cargo.
It also backs; the appointment of a champion for environmental biosecurity based in the Environment Department; the creation of a national priority list of major environmental threats; and a stronger focus on social and environmental risks posed by dangerous new invasive species.
“Taken together these measures will ensure we have a more comprehensive national defence against dangerous new invasive species - I encourage you to implement these recommendations from the IGAB review,” the letter says.
The Invasive Species Council’s website detailing the “Protect Australia” campaign also points to a range of threats like “rampant weeds”.
“Although new weed species cannot be introduced legally into Australia, people can and do easily import them illegally through online trading sites - they could include new cactuses and grasses for example,” it says.
It also says a recent study put the value of Australia natural wealth at $3.4 trillion - the estimated value of the benefits that ecosystems provide to humans, including the provision of natural resources, clean air and water and cultural and support services.
“Dangerous invasive species can threaten one or more of these assets,” it says.
“Globalisation, migration, climate change, growing tourism and freight all escalate the risks of dangerous new species making it to Australia.
“The number of cargo arrivals alone is forecast to increase more than 70 per cent by 2025 - but biosecurity funding is not keeping pace with these rapid global changes.
“The cost of new incursions into Australia could be catastrophic.
“Horse flu cost us more than $332 million, fire ants have already cost us $350 million and will cost another $411 million over next ten years.
“A large-scale foot and mouth disease outbreak could cost as much as $50 billion.”
The Council says if the IGAB changes are adopted it would “end the game of Russian roulette we take part in every time a new ship or plane enters our country and secure our borders from dangerous new invaders, but we need to do it together”.
Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said a growing list of dangerous pests and diseases were evading Australia's environmental border controls and “infesting the country”.
“Every plane that arrives in Australia, every ship that docks at our ports, every passenger that enters our country could be carrying a dangerous new invasive species,” he said.
“"Hitching a ride on freight is how red fire ants got into the country and it’s a sure bet that’s how future invaders will make it past our borders.
“Globalisation, freight movement, growing tourism and online trade all escalate the risks of dangerous new species making it to Australia.
“In just one year, 2015-16, an astonishing 46,000 sea containers on high-risk sea cargo pathways passed through our ports, 138 million overseas mail articles arrived in our country and almost 20 million people travelled to Australia by air or sea.”
Mr Cox said environmental biosecurity was identified as a major “underfunded” area by the independent IGAB review panel headed by Dr Wendy Craik but new funding source would allow that issue to be addressed while avoid stretching existing resources more thinly.
“Any one of these arrivals could have brought in a dangerous new environmental pest or disease,” he said.
“We need a new environmental biosecurity system that works, one that stops dangerous new environmental threats from getting past our borders and infesting our country.
“One that prepares and acts early to protect Australia from dangerous new invasive species.”