THERE serious failings in the way Australia's biosecurity system picks up flaws, with much of the system "largely inappropriate", a scathing audit report has found.
The Australian National Audit Office assessed the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment's effectiveness in responding to non-compliance with biosecurity requirements.
It found often the department doesn't target the greatest threats and in some cases allows people who have declared potentially harmful goods to bring them into the country.
The audit found the broad nature of plane passenger risk assessments meant "a large number of compliant travellers are intervened with unnecessarily whilst high-risk travellers may be missed".
It also found there is no process to assess the biosecurity risk posed by people arriving in Australia by sea, including on cruise ships, with sea travellers "inspected based on the judgement of individual officers".
DAWE biosecurity head Andrew Tongue said the report made timely recommendations and prior to the audit, the department had already begun to enhance its compliance and regulatory practices.
"Although Australia's current biosecurity system has served our country well, the department recognises that the system must continue to evolve," Mr Tongue said.
The Auditor-General made eight recommendations, including developing a strategy on how to gather and use intelligence, a framework for assessing and prioritising risks, and ensuring resources are allocated in proportion to risks.
The report follows a $371-million biosecurity investment in the recent budget. A strategy to begin reforming the system, Commonwealth Biosecurity 2030, has also been recently announced.
Labor agriculture spokeswoman Julie Collins said until last month's budget announcement, biosecurity funding was actually going backwards under the Morrison government.
"The budget's biosecurity announcement only covers the cuts the Morrison government was planning after its biosecurity levy failed," Ms Collins said.
"The Morrison government has been far too relaxed about the serious risks of a biosecurity incursion.
"It is shocking more isn't been done to protect Australia's agriculture industry from biosecurity risks. This failure has the potential to do billions of dollars of damage to Australia's economy."
DAWE has agreed to all the Auditor-General's recommendations, however will request the implementation deadline to be extended from mid-next year to mid-2023.