Mr PASIN (Barker) (17:16): I came to the chamber determined to tune out, but unfortunately I tuned in. I tuned in to the member for Lyons, who I have a high respect for, as I do for all members of this place, including those opposite, but this attempt by the Labor Party to throw scorn on the federal government on account of the mouse plague is patently ridiculous. In the middle of a one-in-100-year global pandemic and the recession caused by the herculean recovery that we have been through as a nation—guided so expertly by the Prime Minister, with the support of every single Australian—I appreciate that the Labor Party really do need to grasp at straws, but they should give up on this one. I think tomorrow at question time they’ll all turn up with Mickey Mouse headsets on. Quite frankly, that’s how laughable this has become.
The member for Lyons knows, as you do, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, as I do and as anyone listening to this broadcast does—particularly those poor people dealing with the mouse plague—that the responsibility for plagues and pests rests with state governments. That is as it should be, and I wish all the very best to the people dealing with that plague. But to come in here and try to get some political mileage out of it—and I’m not necessarily just targeting this at the member for Lyons. I know he’s been given his orders, because we come here, day after day, and member after member seems to make that contribution. It’s patently ridiculous. It’s almost as ridiculous as PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—intervening earlier on in this phenomenon and suggesting that people should be catching and releasing these poor mice. I’m happy for people to catch them. I just don’t want them released in my house or anywhere near it. They need to be dealt with appropriately, and they need to be gotten rid of, not relocated. That’s how patently ridiculous this campaign to throw scorn is, and the people of Australia look straight through it. I know the good constituents of Lyons understand that, and the member should perhaps think twice about trying to hoodwink them into believing this is in some way the responsibility of the federal government.
In any event, I rise to speak on a matter of great importance that impacts primary producers in my electorate of Barker. Biosecurity is one of Australia’s great advantages. We’re an island nation. We’re obviously an island continent. Our biosecurity prevention is the envy of nations across the world and provides us with a strategic advantage, but we can’t take that advantage for granted. Like most Australians, I’m concerned about the egregious breaches and flaunting of biosecurity, as seen on the popular TV show Border Security.
When I catch a bit of this on television, I cannot stop watching it, because I can’t understand how people could believe that they could make that declaration, and then, when you open up their suitcase, it’s full of plant material, cooked pork, uncooked pork—particularly given that these border entrance cards are providing in any language that people seek. In any event, our biosecurity must be bolstered. It always must be. The importance of such protections can’t be overstated.
We’ve seen through COVID-19 that viruses can have catastrophic impacts. It’s not just human viruses that are of concern, of course. We also ought to be concerned about any and all diseases and pests that are foreign to our shores that can impact our capacity to produce livestock and maintain, in the case of my electorate, forestry and fishing stocks as well. Some of the diseases of concern—and these might send a shiver down the spine of some of my constituents listening who are heavily invested in these industries—are foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, avian influenza, anthrax, Hendra virus and rabies. I could list them all, but I won’t. Our biosecurity laws have prevented the destruction of our agricultural sector, a fate suffered by many nations across the world, whether it be mad cow disease in the UK, or African swine fever which has led to eight million pigs being destroyed in China. I don’t know what eight million pigs amounts to, but I think that’s more pork then you can fly a rocket ship over.
Our capacity to produce agriculture is a vital national asset, and any reduction has long-lasting impacts. Jobs and businesses impacted would include our world-class abattoirs, our value-adding businesses in food manufacturing and our regional hubs that service our agricultural regions. They wouldn’t survive if they didn’t service our primary industries. In real terms, our biosecurity underpins $65 billion in agricultural output. Of course, we’ve got an aim to get that to $100 billion, and we won’t do that unless we protect these industries from biosecurity risk. There’s $49 billion in agricultural exports and $42 billion in inbound tourism, each a vital contributor to jobs growth, particularly in my electorate.
I go to forestry. In my electorate of Barker, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker O’Brien, we have a vibrant forestry industry. As a co-convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Forestry Industries I know that across the nation there is concern about the many biosecurity threats that this industry faces. These measures will help protect the forest industry and the tens of thousands of people employed in that sector across Australia. It will protect them from pests such as the Japanese sawyer beetle, commonly known as the Japanese pine sawyer. These pests, if they were to find their way into our forest estates, would wreak havoc by carrying nematodes from infested trees to new host trees—disastrous. These pests have been kept at bay, but the risk is ever present, and just one sawyer beetle can kill a healthy tree within months. Imagine that. The green of the south-east, the forest sector that we rely on—gone in a matter of months. What is concerning is that this is only one of any number of pests that the forest sector is concerned about. These amendments strengthen the Biosecurity Act and are essential in deterring noncompliance, through significant fines and even, I should say, criminal and financial penalties, to protect the livelihoods of the many hundreds of workers in the forestry industry in my electorate and the many tens of thousands across the country.
What, then, about food manufacturers? Australia’s agricultural sector provides high-quality local produce. It’s the backbone of Australia’s food manufacturing. You heard from the minister at question time that my electorate is the one in this place that represents more people actively engaged on a full-time basis in food manufacturing than in any other electorate in the country, so reliant are we on food manufacturing. Given the happy news that emanated overnight from the UK about the UK free trade agreement, we are looking forward to taking advantage of that agreement, but we won’t be able to take advantage of that agreement if we don’t have a strong biosecurity framework, which this act, of course, bolsters. Whether it’s winemakers, meat processors, confectionery or other food manufacturers that add value to already premium produce, these amendments help protect our vibrant manufacturing industry. These legislative improvements do exactly that, and they of course underpin the thousands of jobs throughout my electorate.
I am a livestock guy. I grew up on a farm. Originally we were horticulturists but more recently we have turned to livestock. Livestock and the agricultural industry more broadly are industries that are at direct risk from biosecurity breaches. Any breach to biosecurity may kill off livestock, ruin our green credentials, prevent exports, potentially drastically reduce the capacity to produce stock and reduce the value of that stock. Like in many regional electorates, the livestock industry is a major employer in Barker. Some 4,000 people work in the livestock industry and some 10,000 or so work in agriculture directly. This doesn’t even go to those who are employed indirectly in these sectors. This significant employer also supports many thousands of indirect jobs. For Australia to reach its ambitious stretch target of $100 billion in this industry by 2030, we have to maintain our clean and green reputation. Biosecurity is critically important in that; it under pins it, as I’ve said previously.
Remaining pest- and disease-free ensures not only are we able to continue producing large amounts of stock but we are able to export that stock and its products as premium products with ease, unlike the import restrictions we place on many goods that are riddled with pests and diseases from overseas. If you want a better example of that then just look to the Riverland in my electorate, a part of South Australia I know you are familiar with, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas. Think about that pest-free status we enjoy in the Riverland and then think of all the other citrus-producing areas in Australia. They don’t have that pest-free status and, as a result, those producers incur expense, whether it’s by chemical treatment or by cold treatment, in order for them to access these premium markets. In some markets, no matter how you treat fruit fly, those markets simply aren’t available to you because a premium is paid for fruit that comes from fruit fly-free regions.
There might be a question about what these legislative changes do. They continue to protect our primary producers with biosecurity amendments rightfully increasing both the civil and the criminal financial penalties. The bill will increase the civil penalty a court can impose from $26,640 to $66,600—talk about an active general deterrent, not to mention a specific one. Where this contravention is committed by a body corporate, the maximum penalty can be five times that now. So, by my quick maths, we are talking about $330,000, a fair whack in anyone’s language.
The bill offers significant flexibility to allow courts to respond appropriately, reinforcing the message that breaching the law cannot and must not be seen as being worth the risk. It’s just not worth the risk. That’s where we have that general deterrent. With the specific deterrent, you will be paying the $330 fine as a corporate. But the general deterrent—others are going to know that that is what awaits them should they take the risk. For fault based offences, this is where it gets even stronger. The maximum new penalty under the bill, where a person obtains or may obtain a commercial advantage by importing a prohibited good, is increasing from $444,000 to a whopping $1.11 million. So if a commercial producer is thinking about smuggling into the country some quantity of seed or plant or other material so as to give themselves a commercial advantage over other Australians in contravention of the law, they can expect to receive a $1.11 million bill. It is simply not worth taking the risk.
Similarly, whenever these offences are committed by a body corporate, a court may impose punishment up to five times the amount. So let’s imagine a corporate has done just what I suggested—that is, they’ve sought a commercial advantage by smuggling into the country an amount of plant material which puts our biosecurity at risk. They are staring down a $5.55 million bill. Like I said, there couldn’t be a stronger general deterrent and the specific deterrent would see many of these businesses simply wound up immediately. The increased penalties will send a strong message to would-be offenders: Australia takes biosecurity seriously and is willing to back up our biosecurity regulations with penalties to match—real teeth ensuring that there is appropriate action when it comes to biosecurity risks.
In the time remaining, I’ll refer to recent budget announcements in this space. In the budget, our government underscored the importance of the agricultural sector, not by words but by actions, committing a whopping $400 million to build a more secure and resilient biosecurity system to maintain our clean and green reputation. This funding includes strengthening our critical frontline biosecurity resources, human resources, modernising our biosecurity systems, technologies and data analytics to better equip our frontline defences and specific funding for severe threats such as $66 million over two years to prevent African Swine Fever from entering Australia. This represents a 40 per cent increase in funding from 2012-13 through to the 2019-20 budget period— not including the additional funding in this year’s budget—as well as funding $29.2 million for streamlining export processes through the digital export certification management. Biosecurity can be a productive exercise. We can make it more efficient, and that’s what that funding does—$11.4 million over four years to accelerate horticulture marketing access, benefiting premium producers like those I mentioned earlier in Riverland in my electorate. This is all targeted at ensuring we maintain our vital primary industries.
The Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021 has my full support. It is a win for our regions, a win for the economy, a win for producers, a win for Australian jobs and a complete and utter success for the electorate of Barker.