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'Abysmal' biosecurity failures put $100 billion of assets at risk, auditor finds

ABC Rural

By national rural reporter Kath Sullivan

Australia’s ability to protect almost $100 billion of farming and tourism trade from pests and disease has been slammed in a damning report by the Auditor-General. 

The audit of biosecurity services has found that material that could risk the health of Australia's plants and animals has been incorrectly released by the authorities that are meant to stop it.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has found that the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment — which has responsibility for managing Australia's biosecurity for animals and plants – had inappropriate processes for responding to non-compliance with biosecurity requirements.

It also concluded that undetected non-compliance was increasing and the department's protocols to detect non-compliance were only "partially appropriate".

The audit was identified as a priority after changes to the Biosecurity Act were legislated in 2016 and has slammed the department's response to increasing biosecurity risks.

"Intelligence is not gathered and managed effectively.

"There are ongoing issues with record keeping and random inspections … records indicate that travellers with declared or inspected risk material are being incorrectly released, although incorrect release rates have improved for mail."

No process to evaluate risk management 

The ANAO found that the department did not have "the framework to determine if its detection activities are effective" and was critical of funding arrangements, stating that there were "no documented arrangements to ensure the resources allocated to different pathways or threats are proportionate to the risk posed".

"The department has not established arrangements to allow a full assessment of whether actions taken in response to non-compliance effectively manage biosecurity risk," the reports said.

The report made eight recommendations in relation to the establishment of new frameworks and governance procedures regarding biosecurity.

Each recommendation has been accepted by the department.


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