Submission—Review of the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service

On 31 March 1996, the Academy made this submission to the review of the Australian quarantine inspection service.


Incursions of exotic pests and diseases continue to be a major threat to Australia's sustainable primary production and export, public health and its native biota and environment.

The Australian Academy of Science reviews these major concerns. It recommends that the mission statement of the national quarantine authority be revised to embrace these broader responsibilities. It also argues that the composition and terms of reference of the Quarantine and Inspection Advisory Council be expanded in recognition of this wider remit.

Executive summary and recommendations

Executive summary

Australia's geographic isolation has been long recognised as providing a natural protection from alien diseases for the human population and domestic species on which Australia's primary production depends. This same isolation allowed an unique flora and fauna to evolve, protected from pathogens and competitors from other countries, and therefore vulnerable to potential invaders.

The Australian Academy of Science has had a long standing interest in maintaining the integrity of the Australian biota and in protecting the health and prosperity of the country through the exercise of effective quarantine measures. One recent direct contribution to the matter was the conference on exotic diseases, organised jointly by the Academy and ANZAAS and held in Canberra in May 1984. The proceedings were subsequently published as a book, Pests and Parasites as Migrants; an Australian Perspective (Gibbs and Meischke 1985). In 1985, the Academy sponsored a workshop on biological invasions. The proceedings were published as a book, Ecology of Biological Invasions: an Australian Perspective (Groves and Burdon 1986).

Until Federation, the Australian colonies were responsible for quarantine within their own borders. The Federal Quarantine Service began operations on 1 July 1909 within the Department of Trade and Customs. The Commonwealth Department of Health was established in 1921, partly as a result of the difficulty experienced by the Commonwealth and the States in coordinating quarantine and health measures to respond to the influenza outbreak of 1919. Subsequently, in the 1920s the regulations were gradually extended to cover a number of animal and plant disease organisms, still under the Department of Health. With the general improvement in hygiene and human health after the Second World War the emphasis in quarantine shifted to animal health. This was recognised formally by the transfer of responsibility to the Department of Primary Industry and, in 1986, by the establishment of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS).

In 1992 the Quarantine and Inspection Advisory Council (QIAC) was established with strong representation of grower and export interests. The Council has encouraged the development of cost recovery and user pays in the financial management of AQIS, reflecting the prevailing interest in ensuring protection of Australia's reputation as a producer of high quality, clean meat and other food products for the growing export markets.

Since the publication of the Commonwealth Government's environment policy document Our Country, Our Future, in 1989, there has been a growing awareness of the threats to the native biota from the import of foreign organisms, as well as a growing appreciation of the complex nature of the effects of such incursions. With the great increase in the traffic of people and goods into Australia and the much shorter transit times in aircraft, the risks of inadvertent incursions of serious pest species has increased hugely.

These changes, in the perception of the community and in the evidence of increased risk, have brought new obligations for the quarantine services of the country and require new thinking about the management and financing of such services. They require a greater use of, and support for, the scientific expertise in State Government Departments, CSIRO, Museums and the Universities, and organisational and fiscal policies to meet these changes.

Central to the Academy's recommendations is the need for the national quarantine authority to attain a balance between short term economic considerations affecting trade and export markets and longer term economic, social and cultural considerations pertaining to sustainable agriculture, human health and environmental protection. AQIS's priorities and practices reflect the constraining influence of the mission statement of its host Department, Primary Industries and Energy. Australia's national quarantine authority should either be a statutory authority or measures should be taken to ensure that its broader responsibilities in sustainable agriculture, health and environmental protection are fully catered for. Any ministerial advisory council dealing with quarantine must be empowered to provide advice cognisant of these broader aspects of quarantine.

The Academy therefore welcomes this timely review of the functions and operation of AQIS and makes the following submission in a spirit of cooperation. It recognises that the task of AQIS will always be difficult and insufficiently rewarded because, when its efforts are successful they are largely unnoticed but when they fail everyone knows about it. The submission addresses the Terms of Reference of the Review but, for reasons that will become clear, not in the order that they were set out in the preliminary material. The submission begins with a general introduction that traces the changing perception of the role of quarantine in Australia and the policy shifts that have arisen from the several recent reviews and reports. It then examines the potential and actual routes of entry that exotic organisms might use to breach quarantine and the means that should be considered to meet these threats. This is followed by an examination of some recent incursions and the lessons that can be learnt from them, and an assessment of other potential invaders. These examples cover a wide taxonomic range from viruses through insects and plants to fish. The submission concludes with a series of key considerations and recommendations.

Recommendations (in order of appearance in the text)

2.4.1 The Academy of Science strongly endorses Recommendation 22 of the NAQS Review, that the organisation of NAQS should be critically reviewed, to ensure that appropriate and experienced scientific leadership is available to NAQS field scientists, and that the present cumbersome and frustrating administrative channels are simplified.

3.1.1.1 The Review Committee is encouraged to consult stored grain experts to assist in assessing the risks of pests and diseases entering Australia with bulk grain imports and to determine procedures that will facilitate these importations, while reducing the risk of unwanted incursions to an acceptable level.

3.1.2.1 AQIS should reform the quarantine requirements for the import of legume seed and establish fumigation procedures that are effective and do not affect the viability of the seed.

3.2.1 Before permission is granted for import of any potential pasture plant it should be investigated for its potential weediness (which often makes it an attractive pasture plant) by a broadly based committee that will consider environmental impacts, as well as potential benefits for agriculture.

3.2.2 The Review Committee should explore the linkages between AQIS, ANCA and DEST, to ensure that environmental impact of exotic weeds and pests are addressed in Australia's best interests.

3.3.1 The Academy recommends that cut flowers be subject to mandatory rigorous treatment schedules based on a systems approach of decremental pest control measures from field to preshipment disinfestation, in order to reduce the infestation load on transported material. AQIS inspectors should be posted to countries from which cut flowers are imported to ensure that any such treatments are adhered to.

3.3.2 The Academy recommends that AQIS should identify gaps in knowledge and commissions research to underpin the development of effective protocols so that trade opportunities are fully exploited for cut flowers and ornamentals, but not at an unacceptable level of risk of quarantine failures. These protocols should be enforced without exception.

3.7.1 The Academy recommends that NAQS be given adequate resources so that field officers are well placed to ensure sound quarantine is maintained in the Torres Strait.

3.9.1 Given the increasing volume of biological research material entering Australia, AQIS should consider the appointment of a specialist Quarantine Officer, along the lines of the CSIRO Canberra model, in each of the capital cities in Australia. This officer would be associated with a research institution and act as a focal point for the clearing of imported biological research material for all research institutions in that city. Such an arrangement would have significant benefits both in enforcing quarantine regulations and facilitating the timely delivery of material for research.

3.10.1 The Academy acknowledges the leadership role of AQIS in the safe and efficient importation of natural enemies for biological control of weeds and pests and recommends that measures be taken to ensure AQIS is able to maintain this role.

4.1.6.1 The Academy urges the Review Committee to investigate why Australia appears better prepared to cope with certain livestock diseases than with adverse plant health and environmental impacts of incursions of unwanted pests and diseases into Australia. This imbalance appears to have a historical basis and should be redressed as a matter of urgency.

4.4.1 The Academy is concerned that Australia, more or less by default, is lowering its capacity to exclude the entry of exotic diseases of humans. It recommends that the Government's advisory council contain at least one medically qualified member.

5.1.1. The responsibilities of AQIS should be adequately directed to the protection and conservation of Australia's fauna and flora, as well as to the safe and efficient protection of Australia's plant and animal industries.

5.1.2. Lists of all known or suspected organisms that could pose a threat to Australia should be maintained on computer network and up-dated regularly. Information should include diagnostic kits, countries of origin, potential or actual routes of entry and an assessment of the risk of entry, and probable impact on industry and the environment. The data should be easily accessible by a wide audience. In addition, any successful biological control used elsewhere and measures for long term management should be included.

NAQS scientific and other relevant staff should be provided at each location with specimens of each target organism and colour photographs of damage, together with means of identification and where to send suspected new pests for positive identification.

5.1.3 For species identified as of high risk, research should be conducted in the country of origin, or neighbouring countries where it has recently arrived, by active collaboration with Australian scientists, supported by Australian funds.

5.1.4 For the most important species, contingency plans to meet a possible incursion should be developed, along the lines of the Screw-worm Fly Plan and AusVetPlan.

5.1.5 A much greater involvement of the Australian scientific community - State departments, CSIRO and Universities - in research of relevance to quarantine, in the areas of taxonomy and risk assessment should be encouraged. This could take the form of competitive grants for relevant research projects and the encouragement of undergraduate courses in these disciplines, as an essential component of environmental studies.

5.1.6 The education of incoming passengers about the importance of quarantine for the Australian environment and primary industry should be expanded. This could include inflight videos and articles in the inflight magazines.

5.2.1. Surveillance at harbours and airports should be strengthened and the Northern Australian Quarantine Survey (NAQS ) should be continued. This could be achieved by increasing Commonwealth funded AQIS staff. Because the risk can potentially affect the whole community for the indefinite future, Commonwealth funding is appropriate.

5.2.2 Procedures for the importation of living organisms, other than mammals and birds, needs to be tightened; restrictions on the import of fish and many types of plant are inadequate to meet environmental risks.

5.2.3. A highly conservative approach to import licences should be implemented. Instead of approving those species that are not on the prohibited list, the onus should be placed on the applicant to establish the risk-benefit balance for any species that has not been previously cleared for entry. In the assessment, the risk factors should include the possibility of vicarious species and pathogens inadvertently being carried on the species being applied for.

5.2.4 Consideration should be given to adopting, as a model, relevant aspects of the New Zealand legislation on import of exotic organisms, which treats all species in the same way.

5.3.1.1 National contingency plans, such as AusVetPlan, which are developed for the identified high risk species, must be based on a thorough use of all relevant data and methodology. This should include population ecology of potential hosts and epidemiology of the target species, ecological modelling and game theory, leading to explicit risk assessment and realistic contingency plans. Current approved plans fall short of this.

5.3.1.2 The Review Committee should explore the feasibility of establishing the equivalent of AusVetPlan to cope with the wide range of risks to commercially important plant species through the incursion of insect pests, diseases and weeds into the country.

5.3.2.1 The Academy strongly recommends that the Review confirm the essential role of research groups outside AQIS in maintaining Australia's quarantine capabilities. The Review should explore ways for these services to be properly costed and the respective organisations should be paid for their services. Funding for this work by University and Museum taxonomists would be best managed through a peer review system, such as used by the ARC or NHMRC.

5.3.3.1 In the event of an incursion of a new pest species a high priority needs to be given to determining precisely how it entered Australia and from whence it came; surmise and conjecture are not sufficient.

5.3.3.2 The procedures required for the introduction of organisms for the biological control of existing pests should be reviewed, with the aim of facilitating their importation and release.

5.3.5.1 The Academy recommends that the Review Committee support the initiative to develop a modern quarantine and containment facility in Northern Australia. The emphasis should be on plant health relevant to sustainable agriculture and protection of Australia's biodiversity.

5.4.1 The Academy fully agrees with the application of cost recovery from the user for those activities of AQIS where a user, who captures the benefits of the service, can be identified, e.g. the issue of export licenses, provision of inspection services and quality assurance certification. A clear distinction, however, needs to be made between export costs, for which user pays, and the costs to Australia of importing unwanted foreign organisms. In the latter case, the risk of failure is borne, not by the importer alone but by the whole country and for a very long time. For this reason the surveillance must be impeccable and the cost should therefore be borne by the Commonwealth.

5.5.1.1 The Academy recommends that careful consideration should be given to establishing AQIS as a Statutory Authority.

5.5.1.2 The Academy requests the Review Committee investigate the linkages between AQIS and all relevant agencies, and ABARE should be asked to examine the relevant policies underpinning quarantine aspects of exports and imports to determine if any anomalies exist.

5.5.1.3 Strong links should be established between AQIS, DEST, EPA, ANCA, CSIRO and the Department of Health to ensure policy, practice and resources reflect the comprehensive aspects of quarantine.

5.5.2.1 QIAC should have a broader mandate and its functions should clearly indicate that it is expected to advise the Minister on all quarantine matters, which include the wellbeing of the environment and human health, and that its membership should be broadened to include members with backgrounds in health, science and environment.

Introduction

The Australian Academy of Science welcomes the decision to establish 'a wide ranging and independent scientific enquiry into Australia's quarantine policies and programs' and the wish of the Chairman of the Review Committee for a 'full and fruitful exchange of views on the future direction of Australian quarantine policies and programs'. To that end the Academy's submission draws on a wide body of expert opinion. It includes the views of several Fellows of the Academy in the biological sciences, members of the Academy's National Committee for Animal and Veterinary Sciences and other scientists with specialist knowledge of one or another aspect of the terms of reference of the Review.

The Academy recognises the past success of Australia's quarantine service in preventing the introduction of unwanted exotic pests and diseases that could have adversely affected Australia's economy and environment, and the health of its people. The Academy is very sympathetic to the staff and management of AQIS, who work under the unenviable condition that when their efforts are successful they go largely unnoticed. However, the Academy also recognises that the conditions that prevail today differ in many critical respects from those of past decades, when Australia's outstanding record of exclusion of unwanted exotic species was established. Australia's quarantine defence must now be appropriate to these new conditions, some of which are indicated below.

  • The movement of people, goods and commodities into Australia has greatly increased and will continue to do so. In particular, there has been a massive increase in living plant material entering Australia (see Sections 3.2, 3.3).
  • The routes of entry for exotic pests have multiplied and become more unpredictable and the conditions for survival of 'travelling' pests are more favourable, through containerisation and refrigerated air transport (see Section 3).
  • The prospect of global warming, with attendant changes in altered precipitation patterns and long distance wind movements, will gradually make Australia a favourable environment for new exotic pests, including vectors of human and animal diseases, over a wider range of entry points (see Section 4.4).
  • Ramifications of the World Trade Organisation's General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) have profound implications for quarantine. Even to restrict the movement of commodities on legitimate quarantine grounds will often not be without cost to a country's reputation in terms of trade. Trade considerations are placing pressure on quarantine authorities to take greater risks, both technically and philosophically, in relation to diseases and pests entering the country (see Section 3.1).
  • Disposal of ballast water from bulk ore carriers on arrival at Australian ports is a means by which marine pests can and do invade Australia's coastal habitats (see Section 3.4).
  • There will also be a growing demand for the import and export of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) and the quarantine service must be prepared to cope with these technical advances (see Section 3.11).
  • In parallel with the publication of the Commonwealth Government's environment policy document Our Country, Our Future, in 1989, there has been a growing awareness of the threats to the native biota from the import of foreign organisms, as well as a growing appreciation of the complex nature of the effects of such incursions (see Section 5.1).

While its quarantine controls have been widely recognised as a model of best practice, Australia is in danger of forfeiting this position to countries like New Zealand, which are tightening rather than releasing control over quarantine (see Section 5.2.3). To maintain Australia's excellent reputation, vital scientific/technical issues must be addressed about how to facilitate the increased movement of plant, animal and other biological material for efficient trade and commerce without lowering our quarantine standards. This will require additional research on protocols to ensure that they are efficient, and yet remain appropriate and effective for rapidly evolving targets. It also requires a rigorous examination of the policy of user pays, industry self regulation and quality assurance to ensure that these concepts do not ignore the externalities and reach false conclusions.

The place of AQIS in the bureaucracy and its links to policy, technical and service agencies such as the Bureau of Resource Sciences (BRS), Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Australian Nature Conservation Agency (ANCA) need to be reevaluated to ensure that adequate balance is given to plant, animal and human health and to environmental issues. Trade and primary industry resource issues need to be balanced by these broader quarantine considerations.

This submission begins with an historical introduction that traces the changing perception of the role of quarantine in Australia and the policy shifts that have arisen from the several recent reviews and reports. The recommendations in the 1987 Lindsay Review and the 1995 NAQS Review are examined to see whether the failure to implement some of these contributed to the recent incursions of the papaya fruit fly, whitefly and western flower thrips (see Section 4). In Section 3 it examines the potential and actual routes of entry that exotic organisms might use to breach quarantine and the means that should be considered to meet these threats. This is followed in Section 4 by an assessment of other potential invaders. These examples cover a wide taxonomic range from viruses through insects and plants to fish. The Submission concludes, in Section 5, with an assessment of the key issues to meet Australia's quarantine defence and offers a series of recommendations.

2.1 Historical perspective

The concept of quarantine has a long history. In Australia we can trace a change in perception of its primary purpose from a need to protect the human population from foreign pathogens, to the need to protect animals and plants used in primary production from disease. Now there is a new perception, to protect the indigenous flora and fauna from foreign pathogens and competitors, for which the quarantine service is being expected to take responsibility as well.

2.1.1 Quarantine and human health

The idea of quarantine dates from the days of the Black Death in Europe, when the authorities in Ragusa (1465) and then Venice (1485) required that any ship arriving from a port suspected of plague had to anchor in a secluded place and remain for forty days without communication with land. In Australia, quarantine was introduced when the convict ship Bussorah Merchant arrived on 28 July 1828 with cases of smallpox on board. The beginning of animal quarantine for cattle dates from 1871 and for other livestock from 1884. Port inspection of cargoes which covered plants and arthropod vectors was introduced in Sydney in 1889, but the first set of regulations governing plant quarantine did not come into operation until 1909.

After Federation, a Quarantine Bill was introduced to Parliament in 1907, and the Minister commented that 'the six states have laws dealing with the quarantine of humans, livestock and plants and we now propose to embody in one comprehensive measure a system of quarantine to be administered by the Commonwealth Government'. The three divisions of quarantine were initially operated by the states on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, under the direction of the Director of Quarantine, who was a Commonwealth Medical Officer in the Department of Trades and Customs. By 1916 all States had difficulties with the service as it related to human quarantine, and after the influenza epidemic in 1919 a new Commonwealth Department of Health was created. The Commonwealth Government became fully responsible for human quarantine, while day-to-day administration of animal and plant quarantine services continued to be operated by the States. In 1921 a Division of Veterinary Hygiene was created within the Department of Health, and in 1927 a Director of Plant Quarantine was appointed to assist the Director-General of Health, who remained the Director of Quarantine.

2.1.2 The establishment of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS)

The emphasis in quarantine shifted to animal health with the general improvement in hygiene and human health after the Second World War, and the eradication of smallpox in 1977. This was recognised in the 1977 Review of Australian Quarantine Arrangements (AGPS, Canberra) and further enhanced by the 1981 Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry and the subsequent passage of the Export Control Act of 1982 and formation of the Export Inspection Service. Formal transfer of responsibility from the Department of Health to the Department of Primary Industry occurred in 1986 by amalgamating the General Quarantine function of the former, with the Animal Health and Quarantine Branch, the Plant Health and Quarantine Branch, and the Export Inspection Service from the latter Department. In their stead was formed the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) (see AQIS Senate Inquiry Submission, February 1995).

2.1.3 The role of quarantine services

The role of the quarantine service is to prevent entry into Australia and spread of exotic diseases of humans, plants and animals. In fulfilling this role AQIS is bound by Australia's obligations under the International Plant Protection Convention, the International Animal Health Code under the OIE (International Office of Epizootics) and the Agreement On the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures under the World Trade Organisation Agreement. These obligations relate to ensuring that quarantine measures are scientifically based and do not unnecessarily restrict trade. AQIS must also be responsive to the needs of the Australian community by developing protocols and conditions for the safe importation of a wide range of goods, including plant and animal genetic material, microorganisms, biological control agents and biological products.

AQIS's quarantine strategy in managing quarantine risks in the national interest is based on risk analyses taking into account the assessed biological risk from unwanted pests and diseases and options for responding to the assessed risks. This strategy has been Australia's long standing approach to quarantine and has served well in the past. However, the current pressures on AQIS to be open and transparent and to consult widely with industry has strained its scientific resources, and highlighted the need for additional resources. It has also shown the urgent need for a structured approach to risk analyses and to managing the consultative processes so as to minimise the kinds of controversies that have surrounded AQIS risk analyses in recent years, e.g. proposals to import bananas from Ecuador, apples from New Zealand, pig meat and uncooked salmon from Canada, cooked and uncooked poultry meat from USA, Thailand and Denmark, and cereal grains from USA.

Under the former arrangements with State agriculture/primary industries departments contracted as agents for AQIS, considerable scientific resources were available to support quarantine operations through the State networks of entomologists, plant pathologists, weed scientists, veterinary scientists and other experts. However, it is unlikely that AQIS will have the same free access to this experienced support under the new arrangements unless special provision is made on a retainer or some other basis.

2.2 The Lindsay Review

In 1987 the Government commissioned the Quarantine Review Committee with Professor David Lindsay as convener; it produced an interim report in November 1987 and a main report in May 1988.

The Interim report dealt with aerial surveillance and quarantine strategy in northern Australia and led to the establishment of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy in 1989 (see below, 2.4).

In the main report there were fifty nine recommendations. In December 1988 a Policy Statement was issued by the Government that addressed these recommendations. Two recommendations, dealing with charges and cost apportionment, were not accepted but the remainder were; the majority without comment. The Policy Statement contained a statement of fundamentals of quarantine in the form of objectives, strategy and principles. The move towards the new approach of full cost recovery was signalled by the rejection of the two recommendations on finance (see Section 5.4).

Eight years later it can be said that the majority of the recommendations have been implemented and/or developed further. But three recommendations, with direct bearing on incursions by agricultural insect pests have, in the light of recent invasions, not been implemented adequately.

Recommendation 6: No significant progress has been made on establishing a national coordinated program to survey and monitor pests and diseases throughout Australia. One specific program is the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy which has in place across northern Australia a series of monitoring stations for culicoides, screw-worm flies, fruit flies, and Asian honey bees. It also maintains sentinel flocks and herds to detect animal diseases. Some of the States and Territories also have systems in place for specific pests, e.g. fruit flies in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, but these are not part of a coordinated program. (However, this may change with the recent establishment of the Tri State Fruit Fly Strategy.) It is still true, unfortunately, that most detections occur after the pests have established themselves in their particular ecological niche and are reported by affected or interested individuals.

Recommendation 24: With the exception of a program for monitoring mosquitoes at international airports, no national program for monitoring and control of insect vectors and pests of significanceto agricultural quarantine and human health has been established at international airports and seaports.

The policy statement indicated support for this recommendation but stated that the placement of any program would be on the basis of assessed risk (p.23). Two reports in 1991 strongly recommended that traps for fruit flies be installed at major and minor airports and seaports in eastern Australia. The Horticultural Policy Council's report specifically listed Cairns. No action was taken even though in 1993 and in 1995 the papaya fruit fly was detected on islands in Torres Strait just an easy plane or boat ride from Cairns. As a consequence, when the papaya fruit fly was discovered around Cairns, it had been present for well over a year. The delay in its discovery means the difference between a low cost eradication program with a high probability of success and a multimillion dollar program with a less than certain outcome if, indeed, it is not already too late to attempt eradication. From this example, doubts must be placed on the mechanism employed by AQIS to assess risk.

Recommendation 34: The Lindsay Committee recognised the difficulties posed in dealing with the enormous range of pests of plants but nonetheless recommended that there was an urgent need to develop a strengthened, planned and coordinated approach to responding to outbreaks of exotic pest and disease in plants.

The Policy Statement states that 'arrangements ... are in place that would allow Australia to analyse and immediately respond to [the entry of an exotic pest or disease of plants'.

Currently the system operates through the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management and its Plant Health Committee. There is no commitment to funding, which must be discussed for each episode. The speed of response is handicapped by the process. Even with insects, where there has been ample opportunity to have had contingency plans prepared (such as with the silverleaf whitefly, the western flower thrips, and the papaya fruit fly, see Section 4.1), response has been slow or muted.

The Lindsay Review Committee noted that quarantine in Australia was conducted under the Quarantine Act 1908 with major amendments affecting agricultural quarantine being made between 1981 and 1985. The Report stated that the Act had become virtually unintelligible to all but those who worked with it closely, there being more amendments than original text. This statement would still be true today since the new Agricultural Quarantine Act, anticipated in 1988, has not eventuated.

Since the Government's policy statement on quarantine made in 1988, following the Lindsay Report, AQIS has made a number of significant changes to its arrangements for quarantine operations which can be expected to affect its performance. These have been achieved by fully integrating animal, plant and human quarantine functions into one operational service with multi-skilled personnel at all quarantine barriers. Service delivery costs have been reduced, particularly those attributed to overheads, by transferring operations staff in 1995 from State departments of agriculture/primary industries in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia to the Commonwealth Public service directly under AQIS control. AQIS has argued that this initiative can also be expected to improve the consistency of service delivery throughout Australia. AQIS has also further developed its inter-agency cooperation with the Australian Customs Service particularly with electronic lodgement of documents and automated cargo clearance.

2.3 The Quarantine and Inspection Advisory Council (QIAC)

QIAC was established in 1992 with strong representation of grower and export interests. While its Terms of Reference are reasonably broad, QIAC appears to have focused its attention on trade and export considerations which are prominently articulated in its Terms of Reference. The Council has encouraged the development of cost recovery and user pays in the financial management of AQIS, reflecting the prevailing interest in ensuring protection of Australia's reputation as a producer of high quality, clean meat and dairy products for the growing export markets (see Section 5.5.2). QIAC, during its period of existence, appears to have been silent on the sustainable aspects of agriculture, human health and environmental protection. QIAC lacks representation in these areas.

2.4 Review of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS)

This review, chaired by Professor Mal Nairn, was published in August 1995. Its main purpose was to evaluate whether or not NAQS, as recommended by the Lindsay Committee, had been a worthwhile program and to consider whether it should be modified.

The Academy agrees with the main thrust of most of the recommendations, in particular Number 1,

'that the strategic importance of NAQS be recognised by AQIS through the continuation of a NAQS program'.

Detailed comments that could strengthen, extend or modify several of the other recommendations are given at Section 5.3.

It is clear that NAQS has suffered (and perhaps still suffers) from inadequate senior and experienced scientific leadership, both in the field of plant pests and diseases and of weeds. Its activities are largely unknown to the majority of Australian plant scientists and entomologists (including relevant university, museum, CSIRO and other personnel) working part- or full-time in Northern Australia. Most are unaware of the target lists, and conversely, some know of potentially damaging species that have not been considered by NAQS for inclusion in their lists. As a result, NAQS is not taking advantage of relevant information held by Australian biologists. So far, no response from the Minister or the Department of Primary Industry and Energy has been forthcoming to the NAQS Review.

Recommendation 2.4.1

The Academy of Science strongly endorses Recommendation 22 of the NAQS Review, that the organisation of NAQS should be critically reviewed, to ensure that appropriate and experienced scientific leadership is available to NAQS field scientists, and that the present cumbersome and frustrating administrative channels are simplified.

Routes of entry of non-indigenous pests

3.1 Grain and seed imports

3.1.1. Bulk grain imports

From 1980-1994 total imports of grains, pulses, oilseeds and oilseed meal have been approximately 1.3 million tonnes (Grain Statistics 1994). However, due to the recent drought there has been a significant increase in the volume of bulk grain imported, maize and sorghum specifically, for the feedlot industry. This pattern of higher bulk grain imports appears likely to become the norm as the feedlot industry seeks the cheapest sources of grain. With these imports comes the risk of weed seeds, plant pathogens and insect pests entering Australia.

One important risk from these imports is the possible introduction of two serious insect pests of stored products, as well as strains of other stored product insects already in Australia that are resistant to the fumigant phosphine.

The Khapra beetle, Trogoderma granarium (Coleoptera:Dermestidae) has a well established reputation as a quarantine risk and is the subject of vigilant inspection.

The larger grain borer, Prostephanus truncatus (Coleoptera: Bostrychidae) is less well known. Once apparently restricted to Mexico, parts of Central America and the extreme south of the USA, it has now become established in Africa, as a result of at least two separate accidental introductions; one into Tanzania and the other into Togo. In both regions it quickly became a major pest of farm-stored maize (especially cob maize). Now it is becoming widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the most important aspects of the biology of P. truncatus in the Americas is that it is found living away from maize production areas in natural habitats in Mexico, and in a wide range of bush and forest habitats in Honduras. In Kenya it has been shown to be capable of breeding in several species of savanna trees, and there are indications that it could survive and disperse in the Australian acacias (D. Rees, pers. comm.). In addition P. truncatus has been shown to be a very mobile insect, capable of flying many kilometres, and more cold tolerant than the lesser grain borer, Rhyzopertha dominica.

Actions that can be taken to prevent introductions of insect pests of stored grains include

  • effective pre-shipment fumigation of all imported grain and grain products, substantiated by records of gas concentration data monitored over the exposure period,
  • rigorous sampling and inspection of imports, at least to the sampling level required for grains exported from Australia, and preferably more stringent,
  • where AQIS-authorised controlled atmosphere protocols are applied, these should be subject to rigorous supervision by reliable and impartial agents,
  • where a failure to comply is detected, rigorous sanctions should be imposed on the importer (and the exporter). It is suggested that the process used by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) be adopted; a product may be detained by reputation, and errant fumigation contractors are blacklisted so that their fumigation certificates are not accepted without diligent inspection of the treated commodity,
  • again referring to USDA practice, AQIS should prepare a monthly list of Import Detentions and make it available to importers and exporters. Such a list could be made easily accessible by publishing it on the Internet. It would also have the effect of identifying the causes for detention. Citations in the USDA listing have been used by quarantine authorities in PNG as an indication of quality in a situation where local monitoring would have been very difficult.

The latest version of the AQIS standard for fumigation with methyl bromide has been severely criticised by an executive of a multinational pest control business (see Section 5.4). It has been suggested that the standard makes no provisions for fumigators who undertake cut price jobs at prices below that necessary for the correct dose of fumigant required for the job. Such practices occur in South East Asia, where Quarantine Officers have, off the record, openly admitted that this practice occurs and their inability to control it. Very little reliability can be placed on fumigation certificates accompanying some imports, and there is a need for more rigorous inspection of commodities on arrival in Australia.

Sampling and pre-shipment fumigation should be directly supervised by AQIS inspectors, by temporarily positioning inspectors in exporting countries for the duration of a 'season'. Such supervision should not preclude further inspection on arrival in Australia. This practice is commonly applied by Japanese inspectors positioned in Australia for the duration of the mango and orange seasons.

The recent identification of methyl bromide as a serious depletor of the ozone layer and its toxic effects on mammals has jeopardised the future of a very useful fumigant. Presently, the phase out proposals specifically exclude pre-shipment and quarantine applications of methyl bromide. However, it is likely that these applications will also be phased out. Thus it is important to ensure the availability of phosphine as a fumigant because it is the only suitable 'plug-in' replacement for methyl bromide.

Recommendation 3.1.1.1

The Review Committee is encouraged to consult stored grain experts to assist in assessing the risks of pests and diseases entering Australia with bulk grain imports and to determine procedures that will facilitate these importations, while reducing the risk of unwanted incursions to an acceptable level.

3.1.2 Germplasm imports

Imports of germplasm, in the form of seed material, are significantly less in volume than those of bulk grain but the frequency of seed imports is likely to increase with the effort to diversify and improve Australian seed crops, especially grain legumes; this will increase the risk of introducing new pests.

Notionally, all such seed introductions are rigorously inspected for the presence of both pathogens and insect pests. However, where such introductions are made from the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and other international organisations, no assumptions based on experience of earlier introductions, should be made concerning their pest freedom. There is also a concern about the use of methyl bromide (see above) and alternative methods may affect the viability of the seed. A particular concern is the risk of entry of bruchids, which are, weevil pests of legumes. At present the only bruchid of importance in Australia is Bruchus pisorum, the pea weevil. Effective control of this pest requires a specific fumigation regime, with a high phosphine dose. Similar requirements may be necessary for any new bruchid pests introduced to this country. Incursions of species presently unknown in Australia could adversely affect current storage practices for these commodities and jeopardise strategies for agricultural expansion into legume crops new to Australia.

While there is a requirement for mandatory disinfestation of species of annual Trifolium brought into Australia and farmers are permitted to import up to 50 kg of seed without quarantine inspection, the decision is based on a visual inspection. This is of dubious value if the seed has been recently infested. Similarly, lentils are not subject to inspection.

Two recent examples illustrate the potential risk in these policies. In one, a scientist working in Western Australia insisted that samples sent to him be disinfested with phosphine and subsequent examination of the material revealed evidence of bruchid infestation. In the second, concern was expressed (pers. comm., Darryl Hardie) about a consignment of legume seeds that was carried into Australia, declared and passed by the AQIS inspectors on duty at the airport concerned. Subsequently, a number of insects, tentatively identified as Bruchus affinis, lesser pea weevil, emerged from the material. This insect is a potentially serious pest of legumes.

At present, however, there is no specific AQIS requirement to inspect or disinfest any legume seed for bruchids, except for the mandatory fumigation requirement for medic seed from the Mediterranean region. Currently, only fumigation with methyl bromide is permitted. However, this treatment is known to adversely affect germination.

An alternative treatment that will also kill pathogens is required. It has been suggested that heat treatment provides a possibility. Much of the work on thermal disinfestation has been undertaken by the CSIRO Stored Grain Research Laboratory and it is possible that the laboratory-scale rigs developed for this work could be developed to handle small volumes of seeds.

Recommendation 3.1.2.1

AQIS should reform the quarantine requirements for the import of legume seed and establish fumigation procedures that are effective and do not affect the viability of the seed.

3.2 Deliberate introductions of plant material for pasture improvement and horticulture

A number of the plant species, which are now recognised as pests, entered Australia as ornamental plants and were first cultivated in Botanical Gardens. Examples are Mimosa pigra that lived in the Darwin Gardens for many years before escaping to become a major pest in Northern Australia; likewise, Lantanaand Patterson's curse, came as ornamental plants. The North American prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) was introduced both as an ornamental and as a paddock hedge. These cases could be considered to be unforseen disasters, but more serious in its implications was the program, from 1947 to 1985 to introduce grasses and legumes to tropical Australia to improve the nutritional quality of pastures for beef production. The purpose in the view of those funding this work was no doubt laudable but, the outcome, as Lonsdale shows (Australian Journal of Ecology 19, 345-54, 1994), was a serious disregard for the long term effects of introducing alien plant species. Again, there was no legal impediment to their importation, nor their incidental release into the environment, once they were discarded as useless for pasture improvement. During that period 463 species in 2033 accessions were introduced, the grasses mainly from Africa, the legumes mainly from Central and South America. There was no screening for potential adverse effects of the plants before trial, nor was there any attempt at containment of these species during or after evaluation. Of all these species only 21 have proved to be useful to the cattle industry, while 60 other species have become recognised as weeds, 13 of them being listed as major weeds. Of these species 21 are weeds of cropping, 20 are weeds of conservation and the remainder weeds of both cropping and conservation. The annual rate of production of the cattle industry in the Northern Territory is $1.48/ha, while the cost of weed control is $30/ha for annuals and $129/ha for perennials. In this important instance, the environmental externalities had not been considered, and it required the individual effort of a plant ecologist to draw attention to an unsatisfactory situation. Because the benefit to the cattle industry was perceived as a national good, Australia must now continue to pay a huge and continuing cost for these introductions.

Recommendation 3.2.1

Before permission is granted for import of any potential pasture plant it should be investigated for its potential weediness (which often makes it an attractive pasture plant) by a broadly based committee that will consider environmental impacts, as well as potential benefits for agriculture.

Kochia scoparia, a roly-poly type plant was introduced into WA in 1990 to stabilise salinised land. At that timeKochia was not listed in the schedules of Proclamation 86P and there was no legal impediment to its importation. It is now listed as a noxious weed.

Siam weed, orChromolaena odorata, a major tropical weed species, Chromoleana odorata was first discovered in Queensland in 1995 by a NAQS officer while on holidays. The weed had been in the country for some years and was well established. The area of infestation was just south of NAQS's region of responsibility and, on this technicality, it was difficult for the officer, who detected the infestation, to elicit effective action by or through NAQS. In this case, pre-emptive declaration of Chromolaena as a noxious weed by the Queensland Department of Lands, facilitated an immediate response to the weed.

Seeds of weed species, like Kochia and Chromolaena, can be transported unwittingly by travellers and establish in remote areas before detection, making eradication difficult or impractical. N.M. Wace (in Pests and Parasites as Migrants, pp 3-32, 1985) gives figures for 305 seeds of 37 species germinated from the clothing of 12 tourists, who had recently arrived in Australia from 10 different parts of the world. This shows how great is the magnitude of this, inadvertent, route of entry for unwanted plant species.

Another newly detected plant, which appears set to become a major weed, is the South American Praxelis clematidea (Asteraceae), previously unknown, but found to be common during the survey for Chromolaena. It has since been recorded over a very wide area and is thriving as a weed of roadsides, river banks etc. It is also known in Hong Kong and other parts of southern China where it is spreading rapidly. This is an example of a plant species which is unlikely ever to be placed on an AQIS target list, (even though it belongs to the very weedy supertribe Eupatoriae) becoming a serious threat when transferred to Australia.

Australia is so large and bioclimatically diverse that it would be difficult to arrive at a list of plant species that might become invasive in unmanaged Australian environments if imported. Nevertheless, a list could be compiled of those species that are known to be invasive elsewhere, along the lines of the US Department of Agriculture Handbook No. 498, entitled Economically Important Foreign Weeds - Potential Problems in the United States(1977), and Alien Plant Invasion in Native Ecosystems of Hawaii, published by the University of Hawaii in 1992.

Recommendation 3.2.2

The Review Committee should explore the linkages between AQIS, ANCA and DEST, to ensure that environmental concerns of exotic weeds and pests are addressed in Australia's best interests.

3.3 Cut flowers and ornamentals

The Australian cut flower and the ornamental industries are involved in both export and import of flowers and plant cuttings. Imports into Australia consist mainly of ornamentals and propagative or seed stock.

There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of living plant material entering Australia on a daily basis over the past decade, especially cut flowers. Figures indicate that the number of consignments of cut flowers entering Australia during the period 1993-1995 through Mascot airport has remained steady at approximately 800 per year. There has however, been a significant increase in the size of these consignments. The international airport at Perth receives around 10,000 separate cartons of plant material each year. The actual figures between 1988 and 1994 range from 9,400 to 14,165 cartons.

This route of entry for exotic plant pests and diseases undoubtedly represents the greatest opportunity for quarantine failures for Australia. This can be discerned by examination of the AQIS listing of pest interceptions, in which nearly half the interceptions are made from imported cut flowers.

The threat posed by cut flowers stems from a number of reasons:

  • inspection at port of entry into Australia is, in many cases, the only point at which flowers are inspected - potentially too late as they have already landed.
  • cut flowers do not appear to be subject to the same standard of rigour applied to imports of other plant materials.
  • the sampling level is low, possibly due to the perishable nature of the product. There is similarly a sense for a requirement for non-destructive inspection, which can lead to pests being 'overlooked'.
  • flowers are 'designed' to attract insects and are subject to infestation by all life stages, some of which are very small, cryptic and can be easily overlooked during an inspection.
  • where consignments of cut flowers are accompanied by a Phytosanitary Certificate, these are sometimes of dubious value, especially from certain parts of Africa.
  • where consigners gain a reputation for continually exporting infested shipments, they are able to evade 'black banning' simply by changing their business names.

There is good evidence that the whitefly, Bemisca tabaci, (biotype B) entered Australia on cuttings of Poinsettia from California, and the Western flower thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis, may have entered Australia from Zimbabwe on imported cut flowers (pers. comm. J. van Someren Graver, CSIRO, 1995). Both insects have wide host ranges and, more seriously, are vectors for plant viruses capable of infecting both native and cultivated plants. Thus because of inadequate control of entry, one relatively small industry has been responsible for a problem of national importance and great potential cost. Recent studies indicate that the whitefly is regarded as the most important insect pest of agriculture in the USA since 1991. It is estimated that in the Imperial Valley of California from 1991 to the end of 1994, 9,000 local jobs had disappeared and crop losses dues to this pest exceeded $300 million.

It is alleged, in the case of one introduction, that inspections undertaken on entry to Australia did not include searches for this pest 'because it was not known to be in the country of origin'. In another case it is alleged that the consignee, when told that a consignment had to be disinfested with methyl bromide, persuaded the inspector to use another treatment less injurious to the plant 'because methyl bromide damages the plants'. It appears that there has been a failure to communicate to the inspectorate the precise location details of some rapidly dispersing insect pests that are known to pose a quarantine risk to Australia; and a lack of rigour in the application of prescribed quarantine disinfestation treatments.

There is also a likelihood that some of the established disinfestation procedures may fail to completely control infestations. This view was expressed by R. Roush (Waite Institute) some years before the whitefly entered Australia. Treatments may be applied after detection of infestation by insect pests and the material released, without further inspection.

For example, two principal markets for Australian cut flowers are Japan and the USA, both of which apply stringent quarantine controls to prevent importation of living insects. There are reports from exporters, who have had consignments of cut flowers fumigated in accordance with established AQIS protocols before shipment, that such consignments have had to be retreated after living insects were detected in them by Quarantine Inspectors on arrival at the port of destination (J. van Someren Graver, pers. comm.).

The Academy does not suggest that the amount of living plant material entering Australia should be reduced. However, it does argue that adequate and effective protocols should exist and be implemented rigorously.

Recommendation 3.3.1

The Academy recommends that cut flowers be subject to mandatory rigorous treatment schedules based on a systems approach of decremental pest control measures from field to preshipment disinfestation, in order to reduce the infestation load on transported material. AQIS inspectors should be posted to countries from which cut flowers are imported to ensure that any such treatments are adhered to.

Recommendation 3.3.2

The Academy recommends that AQIS identifies gaps in knowledge and commissions research to underpin the development of effective protocols so that trade opportunities are fully exploited for cut flowers and ornamentals, but not at an unacceptable level of risk of quarantine failures. These protocols should be enforced without exception.

3.4 Ballast water from, and hull biofouling of bulk ore and woodchip carriers

Several marine organisms from the northern hemisphere have established themselves in Australian coastal waters in recent years and are said to be displacing indigenous species. The Centre for Research on Introduced Marine Pests (CRIMP) was set up in 1995 to develop methods for the early detection of marine pests, and to develop new methods to control the spread and minimise the impact of introduced marine pests. One likely route by which the organisms enter Australian waters is in the huge volumes of ballast water that are discharged by bulk ore and woodchip carriers on arrival in Australian ports, preparatory to loading cargo. AQIS is responsible for controlling the discharge of ballast water and approving the entry of ships into Australian ports and it will be taking advice from CRIMP on means to prevent the survival of foreign marine organisms in ballast water.

The second possible route is on the hulls of ships, even those that are well maintained with anti-fouling protection. There are sites on the hulls of most ships, such as rudder and propellor housings, bilge tanks and inlet ports, where colonial or aggregating marine organisms can become established (S.F. Rainer, CRIMP Technical Report 1, 1995) and then provide harbour for other species, even including small fish. Thus the ecological risk posed by biofouling on ships' hulls is not a function of area and, indeed may not affect the efficiency of the vessel. The species that have been observed on the hulls of bulk ore carriers appeared to vary with the port of origin and to include coastal species rather than open ocean species. Clearly, it is important to determine whether ballast water or the hull are the main route of carriage of potential pest species.

3.5 Aquaria supplies

In Australia 6-10 million ornamental fish are imported each year for the aquarium market (J.D. Humphrey, Australian Quarantine Policies and Practices for Aquatic Animals and their Products; a review for the scientific working party on aquatic animal quarantine, Bureau of Rural Sciences, 1995). Freshwater species must be held in quarantine for two weeks but marine species do not require even this minimum surveillance, and none of these imports require prior veterinary inspection before release. There are two hazards; escape of the species itself and the potential pathogens that it may harbour.

Most of these species would not survive outside the controlled environment of the aquarium, but some may be able to do so; no assessment of their long term effects in Australian waterways is made before each introduction. In the case of tropical species many are imported direct from the wild in South America or South-east Asia (W. Laurance, Search, 26, 300-303, 1995). A few years ago a large National Aquarium was set up in Canberra without consideration to the possible effects on the Murrumbidgee-Murray river system. At present in Australia the common carp is spreading at an increasing rate through the inland waterways, fouling the water and displacing native species. In 1995 it was discovered in some of the river systems of Tasmania and the likelihood is that it is being deliberately put into those rivers. Now the CRC for Freshwater Ecology has begun a program for the biological control of the carp; the task is immense.

The second risk of introducing foreign species of fish are pathogens that they carry, which may affect native species of fish and amphibia. Humphrey (1995) lists 42 exotic pathogens that have been identified in ornamental fish imported into Australia, some of which have become established in native species. Drawing on this evidence Laurance (1995) suggests that the spreading decline of many species of tropical amphibia in Queensland since the late 1970s may be due to one or more such pathogens, which are exotic to Queensland rainforests.

3.6 Natural phenomena

While human activity is implicated in the entry of most exotic pests and diseases into Australia, natural phenomena have been responsible for some significant incursions. For example, the leucaena psyllid incursion (c. 1980) most likely reached northern Australia during cyclonic weather. There is also a heavy traffic of small invertebrates and fungal spores in upper atmospheric jet streams. A further example is provided by the recent discovery in Darwin, NT, during a one week investigation by visiting scientist, Dr Laurence Mound, of several species of thrips known previously only from Indonesia. Numerous questions remain unresolved; do they represent recent arrivals, how did they get here, what is their ability to survive in their new environment. Even their presence in Australian would have remained unknown, had it not been for the fortuitous presence of an overseas taxonomist, with a special interest in this group.

While little can be done directly to reduce this 'natural biotic traffic', certain indirect measures can be taken to lower the risk; and more effort could be directed to risk assessment and contingency planning to cope with anticipated arrivals of undesirable species (see Section 5). Strong flyers such as the banana skipper and disease-bearing Asian honeybee species could island hop and enter Australia by their own efforts. In the latter case, better appreciation of the risks can sometimes suggest pre-emptive actions in the common interests of Australia and neighbouring countries. For example, collaborative research between Australia and its neighbours, funded by ACIAR and AusAID on biological control has reduced the abundance of pests like banana skipper and various bee diseases in PNG. Similar examples of biocontrol of other pests in the Pacific Islands have worked towards the common interests of these nations and reduced the risk of incursions into Australia.

3.7 Movement of indigenous peoples in Northern Australia.

The northern borders of Australia include islands only a few kilometres from the mainland of PNG. These islands are part of a chain of islands that spans the Torres Strait from PNG to Cape York. The movement of people, goods and livestock amongst these islands provide opportunity for the transport of exotic pests into Australia from PNG and vice versa.

These activities are permitted under the Torres Strait Treaty (ratified in 1985) which acknowledges traditional customary rights of the inhabitants. Many in the Torres Strait communities are aware of the quarantine risks through the education and extension activities of NAQS.

Recommendation 3.7.1

The Academy recommends that NAQS be given adequate resources so that field officers are well placed to ensure sound quarantine is maintained in the Torres Strait.

3.8 Tourism

Many unwanted pests and diseases enter Australia with returning travellers, either on their persons, in the luggage as incidental hitchhikers or during attempts to import prohibited materials . Australian quarantine has always maintained a high profile with the travelling public and is well respected for its efforts. Its reputation for protecting Australia against the entry of exotic pests is well deserved. This aspect of AQIS' operation and the need for increased awareness by returning Australians and tourists is dealt with under Section 5.1.

3.9 Deliberate introductions for research

Research material in the form of live specimens including insect, plant material and seeds, fungal and viral material enters Australia after a permit has been raised through AQIS. Universities, other research institutions and some CSIRO Divisions generally use State Quarantine Services for these introductions. A number of CSIRO Divisions use the Plant Introduction and Quarantine Service within the Division of Plant Industry in Canberra. This Unit operates under a Quality Assurance agreement with AQIS and provides an efficient service for a number of clients importing biologicals for research purposes. The CSIRO officer in charge of this Unit is an accredited Quarantine Officer and this factor is important in facilitating the importation of research materials while at the same time ensuring that strict quarantine protocols are followed. There are numerous advantages in having a Quarantine Officer familiar with research requirements associated with a research institution. Apart from being able to facilitate the release of material for research purposes, the presence of such an officer raises the level of consciousness of quarantine requirements within a research institution. With the increasing traffic of material (plasmids etc.) used in genetic engineering research there is a need to exercise greater vigilance in this area. The potential for breach of quarantine regulations is increased by the small amounts of material involved. The CSIRO Quarantine Officer is confident of interception of all quarantinable material coming into CSIRO in Canberra. This is particularly important because of the significant amount of material that is missed at the international mail exchange in Sydney.

Recommendation 3.9.1

Given the increasing volume of biological research material entering Australia, AQIS should consider the appointment of a specialist Quarantine Officer, along the lines of the CSIRO Canberra model, in each of the capital cities in Australia. This officer would be associated with a research institution and act as a focal point for the clearing of imported biological research material for all research institutions in that city. Such an arrangement would have significant benefits both in enforcing quarantine regulations and facilitating the timely delivery of material for research.

3.10 Deliberate introductions for biological control

Australia as an island nation has enjoyed freedom from many pests and diseases endemic to other countries. However, the flipside of this fortunate situation is Australia's high vulnerability to ecological, economic and environmental impacts when pests enter the country without the restraining influence of the biotic factors which might restrain the pest in its natural domain. The identification and introduction of specific and effective natural enemies to exert a measure of biological control has been a hallmark of research in CSIRO and all relevant State Departments in Australia. Australia is recognised around the world as a leader in this field because of its impressive record in safe and successful introductions. Australia has been a pioneer in many areas of biological control, e.g. being the first country to use fungal species to control weeds such as skeleton weed. AQIS, together with the EPA, provides approval for the importation and release of biological control agents, once specificity and safety has been demonstrated. In reaching its decision, AQIS and the EPA rely on the technical advice of CSIRO and the relevant State Departments, following an evaluation of the evidence supplied by the importing research organisation. In the past, these arrangements have been entirely satisfactory and have been conducted in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration. However, with the recent downsizing of AQIS, a considerable loss of technical expertise occurred and, in the view of some collaborating institutions, there exists a real danger that AQIS is compromising its capacity to maintain its leadership role in supervising the importation of biological control agents. A separation of operational and policy responsibilities and the early retirement of senior technical staff in AQIS has been a cause of real concern to biological control practitioners.

Recommendation 3.10.1

The Academy acknowledges the leadership role of AQIS in the safe and efficient importation of natural enemies for biological control of weeds and pests and recommends that measures be taken to ensure AQIS is able to maintain this role.

3.11 Genetically modified organisms (GMO's) and quarantine

Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, Australia is engaged in consultations on a possible protocol on biosafety of GMOs. This is led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in consultation with other government departments and NGOs. At the most recent meeting held in Madrid during 24-28 July 1995, delegates from the majority of the countries favoured a legally binding instrument (a Protocol) on biosafety. However, Australia and some other countries had not developed a firm position at that time. Whether or not a Protocol is agreed upon, the movement of GMOs between countries is certain to become an important issue and one requiring regulation. Whether this should entail legislation separate from that already in place for the movement of organisms other than GMOs is debatable. For instance, New Zealand has adopted the stance that the same legislation should apply to the movement of all living organisms, be they naturally occurring species, those developed by conventional breeding or those resulting from recombinant gene technology. There is much to commend this approach.

The invaders

It is likely that Australia receives many new species of plants and animals each year and that, because most of them do not cause immediate and recognised harm to primary industry, they go unremarked. Some indication of the extent of this can be gauged from the experience of the United States where estimates of exotic species have been made (see U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Harmful Non-Indigenous Species in the United States,OTA-F-565. Washington 1993).

Estimated number of exotic species in USA

Plants >2,000
Insects and arachnids >2,000
Terrestrial vertebrates 142
Fish 70
Molluscs (non marine) 91
Plant pathogens 239
TOTAL 4,542

Many of the species listed in this table are not pests, but the figures demonstrate the overwhelming abundance of arthropods and plants among the exotic species. Some 235 of the exotic insects in USA are regarded as important pests (Schwartz and Klassen, 'Estimate of losses caused by insects and mites to agricultural crops' in CRC Handbook of Pest Management in Agriculture vol 1 pp 155-77. Boca Raton, CRC Press, Florida 1981).

Similarly, in Japan 172 of the 239 exotic insects are pests ( Morimoto and Kiritani, Fauna of exotic insects in Japan, Bulletin of the National Institute of Agroenvironmental Sciences 12: 87-120, 1995).

Unfortunately, comparable figures are not available for Australia, but it is probable that our number of exotic insect pests is similar to that of USA. In the report of the Review of NAQS (Nairn and Muirhead 1995) the arrival in recent times is recorded of 19 insect pests, 1 weed and 7 animal and bee diseases, so that the preponderance of insect intrusions is continuing. Some of these recent incursions are examined in more detail below, in order to provide lessons to be learnt for future preparedness.

4.1 Insects

Section 4.1 outlines a number of cases where the incursion has involved the entry into Australia of insect species which are likely to have a major adverse impact on sustainable agriculture and the environment. Several of these pests e.g. whitefly and western flower thrips have most likely entered Australia on more than one occasion. Others, e.g. old world screw-worm and Russian wheat aphid have failed to gain entry. Recommendations arising out of these case histories are largely dealt with in Section 3, Routes of Entry, and, to a lesser extent, in Section 5, Key Considerations.

4.1.1 The papaya fruit fly, Bactrocera papayae

The Oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) is a species complex, the so called 'dorsalis' complex, which has recently been shown to comprise 52 species, of which seven are known to 4 attack cultivated fruits. They are major pests in many areas throughout southeast Asia (their native range) and have invaded islands in the Pacific and parts of North and South America.

Members of this complex have long been recognised to be major potential pests for Australian horticulture; they may 'island hop' into northern Australia, they can travel long distances on small vessels or light aircraft, or arrive as eggs or larvae in infested produce, thereby breaching the quarantine perimeter at more southerly ports in Queensland than Cape York peninsula itself. To confuse the matter there are several native pestiferous fruit flies, which already entail substantial costs in control and the restriction of movement of fruit within Australia and overseas. The most important of the native species is the Queensland fruit fly, Bactrocera tryoni.

In 1974 the mango fly (Bactrocera frauenfeldi), was found on Cape York peninsula. The arrival of this species from PNG resulted in a series of detection traps being established around the coastline from Queensland to Western Australia. In 1975 these traps detected another species, Bactrocera opiliae, on Melville Island off Darwin, which was first identified as the Oriental fruit fly. However, this species, while a member of the 'dorsalis' complex, proved to be a native species, restricted to one native fruit.

The Lindsay Committee, in its Report on aerial littoral surveillance and Northern Australian quarantine strategy (1987) identified the importance of northern Australia, in particular the Torres Strait-Cape York region, as the route of entry for pests and diseases to mainland Australia and noted that, if an exotic pest or disease gained entry by natural means or by human breach of quarantine, it would obviously be important to detect its presence at the earliest practicable opportunity.

The Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS), established in 1989, was a direct outcome of this Report and took over management of the previous monitoring system. Survey stations were maintained along the northern coast of the mainland and on several islands in Torres Strait. Surveys to identify pests in Irian Jaya and PNG were commenced in collaboration with local people in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

The distribution of thirteen traps on islands in Torres Strait and six sites on Cape York (all within 30 km of the Cape) was based on the assumption that fruit flies would cross Torres Strait moving from island to island (island-hopping) and so arrive at Cape York.

The possibility that the flies could arrive at other locations was considered in a report of the Horticultural Policy Council in April 1991, which stated that 'It is of some concern however, to find that such [efficient detection] systems are not being used at many of the most likely entry points for these species around Australia, the major and minor seaports and airports. Consequently, if an exotic species succeeded in gaining entry at one of these ports and becoming established it is probable that its presence would remain undiscovered for a considerable period, perhaps until eradication had become too difficult or too costly to contemplate.' The Report contained the recommendation that monitoring for fruit flies should be conducted at major and minor ports and airports and it listed Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane, and Cairns as high risk areas. This report was considered by the Standing Committee on Agriculture in February 1992, but no traps were set out in Cairns.

In November 1991 a report commissioned by the then Bureau of Rural Research on behalf of AQIS also contained a recommendation that trapping should be conducted at ports of entry. No traps were set out in Cairns despite this recommendation.

In early 1992 one of the Oriental fruit fly complex, Bactrocera papayae, was identified at Merauke in Irian Jaya and soon afterwards found in PNG, just over its border with Irian Jaya. In early 1993, the papaya fruitfly was trapped on Boigu and Darnley Islands. Traps were set out on many other islands and flies were trapped on Saibai, Dauan and Stephen Islands. Eradication measures were undertaken on Stephen and Darnley islands in Torres Strait and were judged successful.

In early 1995 this species was again detected on Darnley and Stephen Islands, as well as on Murray and Yorke Islands in Torres Strait. Then in October 1995 came the announcement that the papaya fruit fly had been found on the mainland near Cairns. An intensive survey showed that the fly already occupied a large area centred on Cairns, Mossman to Bingil Bay, along the coast and inland to Mareeba, and was presumed to have been present for up to two years.

The main lesson from the papaya fruitfly incursion is that the recommendations of expert committees should be heeded; it was predicted that fruit flies of the 'dorsalis' group, like the papaya fruit fly, would most likely enter Australia through ports/airports, with Cairns as the most likely port of entry, and yet it seems that this pest was present for up to two years in the Cairns area before detection. The AQIS Bulletin for Nov-Dec 1995 maintains that the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy could not have done more to detect or eliminate this pest. On the evidence the Academy considers that more could have been done, and that it is important to acknowledge this. Eradication would have been much easier and cheaper if the invasion had been detected soon after it began.

4.1.1.1 Prospects for eradication or control of B. papayae

Fruit flies have been eradicated from invaded areas more often than any other group. This is because of their attraction to chemical lures; the largest number of species to methyl eugenol or cue-lure. Traps baited with one of these chemicals attract male flies and can be used as a sensitive and efficient system to detect the flies early in the infestation; the earlier they are detected the easier it is to achieve eradication. In addition, techniques have been developed that are aimed at specific weak links in the defences of the flies: to remove males using the chemical lures; to remove females using hydrolysed protein lures; and to use the Sterile Insect Technique to achieve eradication.

These methods have been well developed and successfully employed in Australia to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly from Carnarvon and the Queensland fruit fly from Perth. A joint Federal-State programme is underway to research and develop these techniques to control the Queensland fruit fly in southern Australia, in order to maintain fruit fly area-free status, so that exports can continue with minimum disruption. Infestations of the Queensland fruit fly and the Mediterranean fruit fly have been eradicated many times in southern Australia. Likewise, the true Oriental fruit fly, Bactrocera dorsalis, has been found in California more than a dozen times and each time it has been eradicated

However, because of the delay in detection, eradication of the papaya fruit fly from north Queensland will be a major task. The only comparable campaign is in southern Mexico, which aims to prevent the Mediterranean fruit fly spreading northwards from Central America. This campaign has been successful, but the wider aim of pushing the fly out of Central America is in abeyance.

The situation in north Queensland has advantages over Mexico in that the flies cannot spread into our drier inland. Provided the papaya fruit fly cannot maintain high populations in the rain forest fruits, eradication may be possible.

4.1.2 The incursion of Bemisia tabaci biotype B

The silverleaf or poinsettia whitefly, Bemisia tabaci is a serious pest of horticultural crops and cotton and has the potential to cost these industries more than $300 million annually. It can cause damage through feeding, through the transmission of plant viruses, and by fouling produce with honeydew and sooty mould. The B biotype is especially difficult to control as it is resistant to most of the insecticides currently registered in Australia against whiteflies. Furthermore, it has a wide host range, rapid rate of development and produces up to 300 eggs/ female, attributes which together enable populations to increase in size rapidly.

Bemisia tabaci biotype B was first detected in Darwin in October 1994. The chain of events leading to the Northern Territory detection is unclear and probably will never be known. However, on the basis of circumstantial evidence, it is likely that it was introduced sometime between mid-1992 and early 1993, well before its detection in October 1994. At that time, poinsettia cuttings were imported into Australia from the USA by a nursery operator in Coffs Harbour, passing through the normal fumigation with methyl bromide and 3 month quarantine period, without the whitefly being detected. Plants were then propagated and sent to nurseries in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. In June 1993 Delta Nursery in Queensland suffered a whitefly infestation, which was uncontrollable with organophosphate and synthetic pyrethroid treatment. The timing of the outbreak in Delta Nursery coincided with the purchase of a shipment of poinsettia from Brindley Bros in Coffs Harbour, the only purchase of poinsettia made that year. They then purchased Encarsia formosa (a parasitic wasp used to control a different species of whitefly) from Biological Services in Loxton. After the release failed to control the infestation they then sent infested material to James Altman of Biological Services in Loxton, who identified the whitefly as Bemisia tabaci. The fact that applications of insecticides failed to control the infestation suggests that the whiteflies were not the native form of Bemisia tabaci (which is easily controlled by these insecticides), but rather was the new B biotype. Also material from a culture set up using whiteflies collected in mid-1993 has subsequently proven to be the B biotype.

4.1.2.1 Lessons from the incursion of whitefly biotype B

Since the original introduction was legal and went through the standard methyl bromide fumigation and 3 month quarantine, we must ask why the methyl bromide fumigation failed, and why was the whitefly not detected during the 3 month quarantine period?

There are several possibilities. Firstly, since there is no evidence that methyl bromide fumigation is ineffective when applied correctly, the failure may have been due to an incorrect, lower dosage being used or to the duration of exposure being shorter than necessary.

Secondly, methyl bromide fumigation may not have been carried out. Several nursery operators involved in the initial introduction have suggested that, because poinsettia cuttings suffer adversely from methyl bromide fumigation, the cuttings were dipped in an insecticide/oil mix rather than being fumigated. If this was so, the insecticide used could have been ineffective against this biotype, or packaging around the cuttings (it is not known whether there was any) may have impeded penetration of the fumigant and so reduced its effectiveness.

Thirdly, biotype B is known to have resistance to the chemical said to have been used. It is known that pest species, like whitefly, can readily evolve resistance to commonly used pesticides, so pesticides, to which the species has long become resistant in its region of origin, cannot be relied on for control in Australia

Dr P. de Barro, author of a dossier (1995) on the whitefly and its implications for Australia (de Barro, Bemisia tabaci biotype B: a review of its biology, distribution and control, CSIRO Division of Entomology, Technical Paper number 33, July 1995), provided some further possibilities why whitefly was not detected during the 3 month quarantine. Some nursery operators consider that post-fumigation quarantine inspection is inadequately performed, citing several examples: on more than one occasion no inspections were carried out over the 3 month period; inspections were so brief that very few plants could have been checked; some quarantine inspectors did not know what to look for because, due to restructuring, several experienced in veterinary-related diseases were transferred to plant quarantine without the necessary training; a single thorough inspection was made very early in the first month but was not followed by a later inspection. The latter is crucial, as the time of the year that the importation is made can directly affect the rate of development of the whitefly. This is temperature-dependent. Since most nurseries do not have heated quarantine glasshouses, a 3 month period at low temperatures would be insufficient to allow development to be completed. It is thus possible for any whiteflies surviving fumigation to pass through quarantine undetected. This problem is compounded by the fact that whitefly eggs and nymphs are minute and, when in low numbers, can easily be overlooked, especially on light coloured foliage. This is of course aggravated if the inspector does not know where on the plant to look for a cryptic species like Bemisia tabaci.

4.1.3 Western flower thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis

Western Flower Thrips (WFT), originally from south western USA, has become widespread around the world in the past 10 years, largely as a result of the trade in cut flowers (see Section 3.3). First recorded in Australia in 1993, it represents a major threat to plant production in this country because it is exceptionally aggressive and capable of feeding on a wide range of plants. The disease it carries, tomato spotted wilt, has been known in Australia since the 1920's, to be carried by two other introduced thrips species. However, neither of these thrips feeds to any great extent on native Australian plants.

The risk with western flower thrips is that, because it is so invasive, it might introduce the disease to native plants. This would not only increase the available pool of infection for cultivated plants, but could also have serious implications for the native Australian flora. Unfortunately, this thrips seems to exist as a series of biological strains that can only be distinguished biochemically, although they can have very different biological properties. Biochemical work at the Biological Chemical Research Institute, Rydalmere has demonstrated that WFT has been introduced into Australia from at least two sources, and a third strain which lives only on lupins, has been known in New Zealand for many years. WFT currently seems to be undergoing a phase of establishment in Australia, and is not expanding rapidly from the few foci that have been identified. This is not without precedent with immigrant pests, and should not be taken as any form of consolation. Moreover, the existence of different strains of the species suggests that the horticultural trade could easily introduce further strains to this country if quarantine restrictions are not maintained.

The lessons to be learnt from the pest incursion into Australia have been dealt with in Section 3.3.

4.1.4 The cucurbit thrips, Thrips palmi

Thrips palmi (cucurbit thrips) has become abundant throughout the Oriental region only in the past 20 years. Originally described from Sumatra in 1921 this invasive thrips is a serious pest of cucurbits, but also attacks eggplant, potato, tobacco, cotton and many other plants: it has also been implicated as a vector of tomato spotted wilt virus (Houston, K.J., Mound, L.A. and Palmer, J.M. 1991. Journal of the Australian Entomological Society. 30: 231-232). Thrips palmi has spread rapidly throughout the Pacific, including New Caledonia.

The first record of Thrips palmi in Australia was at Darwin, NT, in June 1989, where a serious outbreak was reported in a field of melons at Berrimah, south of Darwin. A monitoring programme revealed that it was established on properties at Berry Springs, Howard Springs and Humpty Doo, and occupied an area approximately 10 kilometres wide and winding 45 kilometres south of Darwin. Later records reported it 20 kilometres further west on the Adelaide River plains, and Katherine, 270 kilometres south of Darwin (Layland, J.K., Upton, M.S. and Brown, H.H. 1994. Journal of the Australian Entomological Society. 33:169-173).

In July 1990 a single severe outbreak was recorded in Queensland, confined to cucumbers in a glasshouse near Ormiston, some 20 kilometres south west of Brisbane. This infestation was believed to have been eradicated. However, in May 1993 a serious outbreak of Thrips palmi was discovered on capsicums at Wellington Point, only a few kilometres to the north of the first infestation. No action to eradicate this outbreak was made, and by 1995, Thrips palmi had been found throughout the surrounding Redlands horticultural district and also to the north of Brisbane in the Caboolture district.

The outbreak in the Northern Territory had serious repercussions for the economy of the Territory, not only due to the damage inflicted on the crops, but also due to quarantine restrictions imposed against the Territory by the States. In 1988 horticultural exports from the Territory were worth close to $7m; by 1992 this had dropped to little more than $2m, and the viability of NT horticulture was at stake. In the initial outbreaks the thrips populations were so high that some crops were either abandoned or ploughed in. Subsequently, properties on which T. palmi was found, during an intensive monitoring program that followed the initial discovery, were prevented from marketing their produce in other States. The fact that the effects of these infestations have declined markedly in subsequent years to the extent that, in 1993, it was claimed that Thrips palmi no longer caused significant losses under Australian managerial practices, should not be any reason for complacency: this might not have occurred, and it may well become a serious pest in any new outbreak area. The possibility of eradication was considered in 1989 but rejected because of the wide range of host plants and the area of distribution at the time of detection.

Considering the rapid and well reported international spread of this thrips in other countries over preceding years, its absence from any AQIS priority list, is incomprehensible. Furthermore, the fact that amaranth, chicory and endive, all of which are known hosts of T. palmi, are allowed to be imported into Australia from countries in which the insect was known to occur, probably accounts for both the NT and Queensland introductions, rather than having arrived on monsoonal winds. A further problem in the Northern Territory stems from the closure by AQIS of its quarantine facility in Darwin, where imported plant material could be safely grown until cleared of any pest or disease. It is now far too costly, and quite impracticable, for NT growers to pay for the use of the full-cost-recovery facilities in southern States, thereby putting pressure on importers to introduce material illegally (see Section 5.4).

4.1.5 Old world screw-worm fly, Chrysomyia bezziana

The sterile insect strategy for the eradication of old world screw-worm was based on this species' possible entry into Australia from Papua New Guinea (PNG) via Northern Australia, especially Cape York Peninsula. Following the interception of this species on a returning livestock ship in Darwin in the late 1980s, it is now recognised that this pest could enter via any major port in either temperate or northern Australia. Most of this marine traffic originates in the Middle East or Asia, rather than PNG, and consequently the biotype entering Australia could be quite different from PNG strains of screw-worm. This realisation has major implications for early detection strategies and eradication attempts using sterile males.

4.1.6 Russian wheat aphid, Diuraphis noxia

In the last 15 years severe damage has been caused to the wheat and barley industries of South Africa, the USA and Canada by the appearance in these countries of the Russian Wheat Aphid (RWA), Diuraphis noxia. Before 1935 it was not known outside the Ukraine and central Asia. It spread west in the 1940s into the Mediterranean and thence into Africa in the 50s reaching South Africa in 1978 and North America by 1986.

Australia can expect at some future time to host this major pest of wheat and barley, and its continued absence is a credit to AQIS. This illustrates the value of pre-emptive action. A workshop was convened in 1986 and a set of measures were agreed upon, aimed at placing Australia in the best position to contain RWA on its arrival in Australia and to minimise its economic impact. These included:

  • collation of all relevant information on RWA in the published literature and its availability to interested workers.
  • CLIMEX predictions of likely distribution and pest status of RWA in each area.
  • registration of appropriate pesticides for prompt action on RWA's arrival.
  • introduction of natural enemies of RWA on other cereal aphids, ready for transfer to RWA populations .
  • isolation from commercial wheat cultivars of genes that provide resistance or tolerance to the toxic effects of RWA.

Australia is now better prepared to cope with RWA if and when it enters Australia. However, there is a danger of this information being lost or becoming less useful in the absence of a 'RWA incursion' contingency plan. This would prevent the loss of 'corporate memory' if the incursion is some years off.

In the case of biological control of RWA, parasites were introduced into Australia, but there is no evidence of their successful establishment on other cereal aphids. However, shipments of these parasites, obtained by CSIRO from the USSR, were sent to South Africa, where they have successfully established on populations of RWA. Studiesin South Africa also suggest why the parasites did not establish on other cereal aphid species in Australia. South Africa currently represents a source of parasites for rapid introduction into Australia if needed. Similarly, genes have been identified in commercial cultivars of Australian wheat, which confer partial resistance or tolerance to RWA in host plants. This work, conducted in CSIRO's Montpellier laboratory in France, demonstrated that all the useful genes were isolated from cultivars whose ancestry could be traced back to the center of origin of the RWA in southern Russia and Afghanistan. Wheat breeders are now better placed to select wheat cultivars known to be tolerant to RWA, although this need has yet to be exploited. A comprehensive synopsis of information on RWA was completed in 1988 and updated in 1996. Much of this research was funded by the precursor of the Grains R and D Corporation.

The pre-emptive work on RWA shows how Australia can be prepared for incursions of major arthropod pests of crop plants. In this regard, Australia is much better prepared for incursions of pests and diseases of livestock than for pests of plant species that are important in horticulture, crops, pastures and forests. The Review Team should address this imbalance in Australia's preparedness to cope with invaders.

Recommendation 4.1.6.1

The Academy urges the Review Committee to investigate why Australia appears better prepared to cope with certain livestock diseases than with adverse plant health and environmental impacts of incursions of unwanted pests and diseases into Australia. This imbalance appears to have a historical basis and should be redressed as a matter of urgency.

4.1.7 Honey bees and pollinators

The greatest value of honey bees (Apis mellifera) to Australia is in the work they perform as pollinators of commercial crops and other plants. The economic importance of exotic diseases and pests of Australian honey bees should not be underestimated.

A set of strategies to be used as guides for controlling economically important exotic diseases and pests of Australian honey bees, once they are detected in Australia, are an integral part of the Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan (AusVetPlan, Edition 2.0). These strategies relate to the potential pests of honey bees, Tropilaelaps mite, Varroa mite, Braula fly, and tracheal mite, and to the potential competitors, Asian honey bees and Africanised honey bees. The strategies were approved by the Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand (ARMCANZ) and are reviewed regularly. However, these diseases and pests of honey bees are not included in the Commonwealth/States cost-sharing agreement for the eradication of certain exotic animal diseases. The Academy does not understand this omission.

The AusVetPlan technical response plan for bee diseases details biological and pathological aspects of each exotic disease and pest, outlines principles of control and eradication and states the policy and rationale for control and eradication. The plan leaves Australia well prepared to respond to the discovery of an exotic honey bee disease or pest.

The AusVetPlan technical response plan for bee diseases is also presently being used by AQIS as a guide for assessing risks and developing protocols associated with proposals to introduce to Australia lucerne pollinating leafcutter bees, Megachile rotundata, for commercial purposes. For these proposals, AQIS has also consulted and met with relevant industry groups, CSIRO, Government bodies and the Australian Nature Conservation Agency (ANCA). These highly commended actions show the positive benefits that can flow from having a set of comprehensive strategies in place for responding to exotic pathogens and pests of a particular insect.

It should be noted that much of the underpinning research on Asian honey bee species and their diseases is financed by ACIAR. This PNG-based research is one example of many funded by ACIAR which either reduced the risk of exotic diseases or pests entering Australia or places the country in a better position to cope with these incursions should they eventuate (see Section 5.1.3).

4.2 Weeds

The problems resulting from weed invasions has been succinctly stated by the CRC for Weed Management Systems.

'Weeds are an insidious, complex problem of national dimensions. Every year they exact an enormous toll on the Australian economy and environment, a toll that is steadily increasing while our capacity to deal with it is piecemeal and deteriorating.

In 1992, Australia spent $463 million on herbicides compared with $138 million on insecticides and $66 million on fungicides. This was just part of the estimated $3,300 million annual costs of weeds to the nation. This estimate itself only represents the direct and indirect costs in lost production and control, and does not take into account the externalities of erosion, non-target environmental damage, health and safety issues and the effect of weeds on the natural environment, biodiversity, the urban environment, amenity values and tourism.

Virtually every agricultural industry in Australia (collective worth in excess of $21,000 million) is affected, either by lost production, contamination of produce or by poisoning of livestock. Some recent estimates of direct and indirect costs include; $600-800 million to NSW, $400 million to Victoria, $650 million to South Australia and nationally, $600 million to the wool industry. Exotic weeds are responsible for over 90% of these losses. Product quality is an issue of increasing importance for export markets and high herbicide usage sits poorly with Australia's clean green image and community expectations.

Compounding this situation is the rapidly increasing incidence of herbicide resistance. Unknown twenty five years ago, this phenomenon is now widespread, with more than 2,500 properties affected in Australia and increasing numbers of cases of multiple resistance across many herbicide classes.

In Australia's natural environment, the devastating impact of weeds on native vegetation and associated native fauna has only begun to be appreciated in recent years and information is still very incomplete. Some 15% of Australia's flora of 15-20,000 species are alien, of which approximately half invade native vegetation and a quarter are already, or likely to become, weeds.

In a country where the natural environment is one of the biggest attractions and ecotourism is the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry, the increasing degradation of our natural bushland by invasive alien species is of serious immediate and long term concern to this industry.

The Landcare movement is one of the recent success stories of community concern and involvement and has identified weeds as their biggest single issue. Weeds are a symptom and an agent of land degradation and landowners are desperate for advice and the means to ameliorate the problem. Weeds are also the biggest single concern for urban bushland community groups.

Several weeds are toxic to humans and, while sensible precautions prevent tragic results, an increasing number of weeds are being implicated in debilitating allergic reactions. The pollen of widespread species, (e.g. ryegrass, Paterson's curse) is a major source of irritation and species like parthenium weed can cause major problems with members of the population who become sensitised.

To further exacerbate a near disastrous situation, new species are entering Australia and establishing at the rate of 4-6 species p.a. and, because of the lag time that is normal between establishment and realisation of weedy potential, there are already enough species sitting waiting to pose new weed problems into the foreseeable future. Further, weed spread is usually exponential. Minor problems today become major problems tomorrow.

Collectively, weeds pose a problem of enormous magnitude for Australia, a problem that is on the verge of being out of control in many areas. Their management is crucial to Ecologically Sustainable Development and to Conservation of Biodiversity, both fundamental planks of Government policy for agriculture and the environment'.

(CRC for Weeds Management Systems, 1995)

For a discussion of the search for solutions to weed problems, see R J Adair (1995) in Conserving Biodiversity ed. R A Bradstock, Surrey Beatty, NSW. pp 194-201.

4.3 Plant pathogens

4.3.1 Stripe rust (Puccinia striiformis) of wheat

In the last 20 - 30 years a significant number of new plant diseases have appeared in Australia. The best known example of economic importance was the appearance of stripe rust of wheat (Puccinia striiformis) in 1978. This disease added significant costs to wheat production in Australia, both in terms of direct yield losses during epidemic years and through the added costs of breeding for disease resistance. The prevention of initial invasion is a highly cost effective method of protecting Australian crops and the natural biota from fungal disease. As with insect pests, eradication campaigns are difficult, and their success is largely dependent on how quickly after initial invasion a disease is identified. It is therefore important to identify risk areas and to formulate strategies to deal with outbreaks of disease that are potentially catastrophic to a particular Australian industry. Although resistance to stripe rust of wheat has been bred into many Australian wheat varieties, those grown in Western Australia are still susceptible because the disease has not reached there. A sudden introduction of stripe rust into Western Australia could have disastrous effects on the wheat harvest in that State. The risk from bulk grain imports as stock feed was referred to in Section 3.1.

4.3.2 Pathogens of rice

Rice production in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area in New South Wales is another example of an effective and profitable primary industry at risk from introduced diseases. Currently, the rice industry has none of the fungal diseases that beset rice production in other parts of the world. This is because of a combination of different growing conditions and geographic isolation. While these factors, particularly the difference in climate for Australian rice production, have led to the introduction of varieties that are suitable for Australian growing conditions, these varieties contain no resistance to fungal pathogens and there is a danger of complacency, because these diseases are currently not present in Australia. Contingency plans need to be developed to ensure the survival of the rice industry should fungal diseases of rice appear.

4.3.3 Other plant pathogens

To date, Australia has been fortunate in that few introduced diseases have moved on to native Australian species: Phytophthora cinnamoni in Western Australia is a major exception. A number of exotic diseases are known that will attack Australian native species. These include various diseases of Myrtaceous species that will attack Australian species in the same family. A particularly good example is that of Puccinia psidii (guava rust) which attacks a range of eucalypt species growing in plantations in Brazil and other South American countries. In those situations epidemics of the pathogen cause substantial defoliation. In South-East Asia, several canker diseases, unknown in Australia, have been found in plantations of Eucalyptus camaldulensis. In some plantations in Vietnam the effect of these is so great that plants are reduced from a forest tree to a multi-stemmed mallee form. None of these pathogens currently occur in Australia but their arrival could have substantial and irreversible effects on natural communities.

Again, as with insect pests, the north of Australia needs to be recognised as a major potential source of incursions and an increase in vigilance in this area for introduced diseases should be a major AQIS priority. The development of emergency plans for fungal diseases that become established in Australia should also be a high priority.

4.3.4 Papaya ringspot virus (PRSV)

Papaya ringspot virus, an aphid-transmitted potyvirus, was first found in Australia in 1991. It causes a debilitating disease of all commercial papaya cultivars, and severely limits pawpaw production in most tropical and sub-tropical countries, especially in south-east Asia. Its appearance in Australia caused considerable concern, especially because it was first found in a small crop near Brisbane International Airport, suggesting that it had come from overseas and somehow breached quarantine controls at the airport.

PRSV and another potyvirus, watermelon mosaic virus 1 (WMV1), which was first recorded in Australia in 1978, are biotypes of the same virus species. They are only distinguished by their host ranges; WMV1 infects a wide range of cucurbits, but not papaya, whereas PRSV infects papaya and few cucurbits.

Staff at the Queensland University of Technology (in collaboration with the A.N.U.) sequenced the virion protein genes of several isolates of PRSV and WMV1 from Australia and the likely source countries overseas. They found that the Australian PRSV isolates had probably evolved from an Australian WMV1 isolate, and probably on only a single occasion. Thus PRSV probably did not breach quarantine, but evolved from WMV1 within Australia. It seems that this has happened independently in other countries, as more recent QUT/ANU research has shown that in Thailand there is also the same close relationship between PRSV and WMV1 isolates, as in Australia.

This example illustrates the principle that all apparent quarantine incursions should be followed up to try to determine if and how the quarantine barriers were breached.

4.3.5 Alfalfa mosaic virus (AMV)

Alfalfa mosaic virus was probably introduced into Australia in lucerne seed early in the period of European colonization. It was recorded from white clover in Queensland in 1945 and subsequently elsewhere. However, sporadic surveys of lucerne in south-eastern Australia in 1966-75 did not detect it. Incursion of the spotted alfalfa aphid and blue-green aphid was first reported in 1977 and the pea aphid was first reported in 1981. The main Australian cultivar of lucerne, Hunter River, proved to be very susceptible to colonization and damage by these aphids, and so large amounts of seed of American lucerne cultivars, selected for their resistance to aphids, was imported. Six out of eight seed lots imported directly from the USA, and tested at the ANU proved to have up to 1.9% AMV infection. The three immigrant aphids all proved to be vectors of AMV, infection of lucerne crops throughout south-east and western Australia has greatly increased, and the virus has become common in a wide range of crop and weed species. AMV causes a 5-20 % decreased yield in lucerne.

This illustrates the need for quarantine vigilance at all times and that, giving in to short term pressure from industry, may merely alleviate short term pain for a long term cost.

4.4 Human disease organisms

The history of quarantine in Australia as it pertains to human health, has been covered in Section 2.1.1. The human quarantinable diseases recognised by the Quarantine Act 1908 were 'Smallpox, Typhus Fever, Yellow Fever, Plague and Cholera'. Arriving ships were required to notify the Quarantine Officer of the presence aboard of any quarantinable diseases, and the Quarantine Officer often boarded the ship with the pilot and carried out inspections of any sick persons, and sometimes of all passengers and crew for evidence of smallpox, before allowing disembarkation to proceed.

In the 1950s the administration of human quarantine measures was changed in response to the replacement of ships by aircraft as the principal method of introduction of people to Australia. Inspection of incoming passengers concentrated on their possession of a valid certificate for vaccination against smallpox and, if they came from Africa or South America, a certificate of vaccination against yellow fever. With the global eradication of smallpox in 1977, the requirement for smallpox vaccination disappeared. Shortly after this, the administrative apparatus for quarantine of human diseases was dismantled, but in 1982 microbiologically secure ward isolation and laboratory facilities were established at Fairfield Hospital in Melbourne to facilitate the investigation of exotic human diseases.

Currently (1996), the quarantinable human diseases are yellow fever, plague, cholera, rabies and four of the viral haemorrhagic fevers (Crimean-Congo, Lassa, Ebola and Marburg). The problem of yellow fever and the viral haemorrhagic fevers are dealt with by the issue of warning notices to incoming passengers, and suspected cases may be placed under quarantine. As a precaution against the importation of arthropod vectors of human diseases, every Australian international airport maintains mosquito control measures within a 400 metre perimeter, and Australia requires all arriving aircraft to be disinsected using approved methods.

The Academy believes there are, at present, no major issues of concern for human disease organisms. However, it does note that, with the transfer of human quarantine from the Department of Health to DPIE, there has been an erosion of capacity in this aspect of quarantine. For example, medical officers have been reduced in number and are normally not present at major ports of entry; rather, they are available on call. With global warming and changing ecological suitability of regions of Australia for disease vectors, and with the increased movement of people, especially in northern Australia, we could find ourselves unprepared to deal with a new threat to human health. Indeed, it is possible that Australia, more by default than the result of some explicit policy, might lose the ability to anticipate a human health challenge and to prepare adequately for such an eventuality. (For a discussion of the increasing likelihood of human pandemics, see Mimms. 1995. Epidemiol. Infect. 115: 377-386.)

Recommendation 4.4.1

The Academy is concerned that Australia, more or less by default, is lowering its capacity to exclude the entry of exotic diseases of humans. It recommends that the Government's advisory council contain at least one medically qualified member.

4.5 Animal disease organisms

Protection of Australia's farm animals from exotic diseases has been a major function of the quarantine authority since the last century and continues to be so. AusVetPlan was established as a contingency plan to deal with an outbreak of FMV, blue tongue or rabies and it is discussed at Section 5.3. The recent occurrence of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in Britain has served to emphasise the inestimable value of Australia's isolation. BSE is closely related, if not identical to Scrapie, a disease of sheep that is endemic in Britain but absent from Australian sheep. In an editorial of 28 March 1996 the Canberra Times draws the important lesson from this:

'If ever Australia needed a lesson on the importance of maintaining the highest quarantine and other safety standards for its food products it is surely provided by the disaster facing Britain in the mad-cow disease panic.

The Howard Government must take note: user pays, privatisation and other economic rationalist nostrums have no place in this area. This government must act for the national interest.'

While the occurrence in 1994 of an undescribed equine virus and its transfer to humans may not come under the terms of the present review, it does illustrate in dramatic form the response of the relevant institutions to an unexpected disease outbreak. In this case the virus was isolated, characterised and demonstrated to be the disease agent within four months (K. Murray et al. 1995. Science, pp 268, 94-97) of its first appearance. This was a signal vindication of the establishment of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory and the role it can play in any future occurrence.

Lessons from escape of the Rabbit Calici Virus (RCV) from Wardang Island in October 1995 are still to be fully assessed. The Academy expects that other submissions to this review will deal with animal disease organisms more fully.

Key considerations, the terms of reference and recommendations

The Academy considers that there is a need to view Australia's quarantine requirements in a broad context. Responsibilities for the several components of the problem are divided among a number of Federal and State government instrumentalities, and much policy seems to have been developed in response to particular crises. As in law, bad cases do not make good quarantine procedures. The Academy considers that the matter of protecting the Australian environment, primary industry and public health needs to be considered under five main headings. These, and the relevant Terms of Reference (TOR), are:

  1. Awareness of, and preparedness for, potential incursions. The adequacy of existing consultative processes to ensure that industry and community groups are appropriately informed and their views taken into account in policy development and program delivery.
  2. Maintenance of appropriate and effective control barriers. The capacity of existing quarantine programs to deliver the requisite level of quarantine protection determined by the Government.
  3. Contingency procedures to deal with incursions. Revisions to the quarantine risk assessment process, including the potential for greater use of quantitative methods of assessment.
  4. Funding and cost recovery. The appropriate balance between cost-recovered and community service funded program elements.
  5. Quarantine policy framework. Any appropriate revisions in Australia's animal and plant quarantine policy framework.

5.1 Awareness of, and preparedness for, potential threats.

Australia's geographic isolation has been long recognised as providing a natural protection from alien diseases for the human population and domestic species, on which Australia's primary production depends. This same isolation allowed a unique flora and fauna to evolve, protected from pathogens and competitors from other countries. Everyone knows that Australia's birds and mammals are unusual, but not everyone appreciates that almost the entire biota shares those characteristics of uniqueness. Many native species have inadequate resistance to introduced diseases, and most natural ecosystems cannot cope with introduced organisms without catastrophic change; they are more disturbed by introduced species than their counterparts in other countries. It is thus of great importance to understand that the World stands to lose a significant part of its biodiversity if Australian ecosystems are put further at risk by the accidental entry of pest species. This is perhaps the most important reason why quarantine defences must be strengthened, not downgraded.

In addition the perception of the public has changed, with the environment now a prime concern of many Australians and likely to increase. In the past AQIS gave primary attention to trade-related issues, and the ecological consequences of pest introductions were of secondary importance. Priority setting in the immediate future will have to pay equal attention to the protection of the native biota and ecosystems, as to the protection of primary industry. This will affect funding policies for AQIS.

Recommendation 5.1.1

The responsibilities of AQIS should be adequately directed to the protection and conservation of Australia's fauna and flora, as well as to the safe and efficient protection of Australia's plant and animal industries.

An important component of being prepared is to know what the potentially dangerous exotic species are, where they come from, and what the probabilities of them becoming established in Australia are. If the biology of the species is well known, it is now a relatively simple matter to predict what its distribution in Australia would be, using systems like CLIMEX, developed by CSIRO and the CRC for Tropical Pest Management. This is even exemplified by the Russian wheat aphid (see Section 4.1.6). AQIS should arrange for a dossier to be prepared for each potential insect pest and weed, as is already done for human pathogens and animal and plant disease organisms. Such a dossier would summarise taxonomic status and means of identification (illustrated with keys and photographs); the area of origin, present distribution, physiological and ecological characteristics, life history, host plants (for insects) habitats (for weeds) and current pest status. With this information the probable distribution in Australia could be predicted and likely routes of entry identified. Current methods of control being employed elsewhere would be included, as well as prospective methods for eradication and/or long term control, including possibilities for biological control. Each dossier should be reviewed regularly and up-dated. Examples of dossiers that are relevant to the biological control of target insect pests and weeds can be supplied if the Committee so wishes. An important feature of such dossiers would be their public availability, through the print media but more importantly by being accessible on the Internet.

A major omission in the NAQS review (1995) was any mention of the urgent need to provide NAQS personnel with an effective and ready means for recognising target plant pests and diseases and weeds. Specimens, keys, colour photographs of the pests/diseases and weeds and the damage they cause should be provided. Also, at least the scientific (and other key) personnel should be sent overseas to become familiar with the target pests/diseases/weeds and the damage they cause. This would greatly improve the chances of early recognition of target pests, should they appear on Australian soil.

Recommendation 5.1.2

Lists of all known or suspected organisms that could pose a threat to Australia should be maintained on computer network and up-dated regularly. Information should include diagnostic kits, countries of origin, potential or actual routes of entry and an assessment of the risk of entry, and probable impact on industry and the environment. The data should be easily accessible by a wide audience. In addition, any successful biological control used elsewhere and measures for long term management should be included.

NAQS scientific and other relevant staff should be provided at each location with specimens of each target organism and colour photographs of damage, together with means of identification and where to send suspected new pests for positive identification.

In relation to the knowledge that an unwanted organism is newly-present in a nearby country, there is great merit in consulting as soon as possible with that country to learn whether, with the assistance of Australian expertise and funding, it would welcome a collaborative control project. This was done successfully, for example, when the banana skipper (Erionota thrax) moved from Irian Jaya into Papua New Guinea (PNG). This serious defoliator of bananas posed a major threat to the Australian banana industry when it spread throughout PNG. With encouragement and funding from ACIAR, a collaborative project between CSIRO and PNG was established which, after three years, resulted in biological control of banana skipper in PNG. The carefully-tested parasites involved could now be available at short notice, should it ever be necessary to establish biological control for the banana skipper in Australia.

Developing biological control of potential pests in countries where they now occur is particularly attractive; it simultaneously provides valuable aid to neighbouring countries and nurtures Australian expertise, which would be available in the event of an incursion in Australia. Also, by lessening pest populations in the neighbouring country, it not only provides an additional degree of protection against invasion of Australia, but would also greatly shorten the lead time for establishment of biological control here. This sort of collaborative research and development falls well within the remit of ACIAR (e.g. funding in Phillipines, Indonesia and Malaysia), AusAID, and possibly also ABARE (e.g. in Papua New Guinea).

Recommendation 5.1.3

For species identified as of high risk, research should be conducted in the country of origin, or neighbouring countries where it has recently arrived, by active collaboration with Australian scientists, supported by Australian funds.

Recommendation 5.1.4

For the most important species, contingency plans to meet a possible incursion should be developed, along the lines of the Screw-worm Fly Plan and AusVetPlan.

In the longer term there is a real danger that the corps of experts in taxonomy, who are the people competent to recognise potential and actual pest species, will be too small to provide the essential expertise on which quarantine services depend. In Australia there is a steady and serious decline in the number of professional taxonomists (see Report of the ABRS Workshop Taxonomy in Crisis, held in Canberra on 19 December 1995). Recruitment from the Universities is also in severe decline, because taxonomy is not regarded as a fruitful career path. In the short term there needs to be an injection of resources into the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) in order to recruit appropriate specialists and to provide research funds for taxonomists in Museums and Universities.

Also, in the longer term more attention needs to be paid to using the school system to better advantage. Almost every child now is exposed to some form of environmental education. A high proportion of children now place 'the environment' ahead of almost every other of their concerns, including unemployment and economic recovery. Furthermore, children are more responsive to environmental concerns than most adults. They are really coming to care about the maintenance of the ecosystem, even before they understand the meaning of the concept! The quarantine message has not been adequately directed at this group, and it should be. Children influence their parents even better than any direct approach to the parents themselves.

In 1994 the Australian Academy of Science published the first comprehensive textbook for senior students, devoted to the topic of the Australian environment, entitled Environmental Science. Weeds and introduced animals are referred to in a number of places in the text, but the importance of quarantine, in a direct form, is missing. We give this example as one instance of the kinds of change that must be made, if the message is to be appropriately focussed on a receptive audience.

One possible avenue for maintaining interest in quarantine, particularly in secondary schools, would be to emulate the combined exercise by the University of Melbourne and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in offering science teachers the opportunity to bring themselves up to date in their disciplines by allowing them to work in research organisations directly involved with quarantine-related research. By working alongside scientists, using laboratory and field techniques and being involved in the scientific methodology, such persons would be able to pass on the real problem at first hand to their pupils.

Recommendation 5.1.5

A much greater involvement of the Australian scientific community - State departments, CSIRO and Universities - in research of relevance to quarantine, in the areas of taxonomy and risk assessment should be encouraged. This could take the form of competitive grants for relevant research projects and the encouragement of undergraduate courses in these disciplines, as an essential component of environmental studies.

Travel patterns have undergone remarkable changes in recent decades and the vast increase in tourists and others arriving by air presents a serious difficulty to ensure that the importance of quarantine to Australia, and our unique needs for protection, are appreciated. Lapses in quarantine may have serious consequences, so it is important that considerable effort be given to publicising our quarantine security, and awareness of the importance of quarantine issues for the national well being should be maintained. However, the low penalties imposed by the courts for infringements of quarantine does not reinforce the seriousness of quarantine protection and it is not surprising that the greater part of the population is unresponsive to the quarantine message.

The seriousness with which we took this was formerly reinforced by the fumigation procedures carried out on landing. These procedures continue to apply to many but not all airlines (eg Qantas is excepted); the reason for this is not obvious. It is quite understandable that these procedures caused considerable annoyance but they did ensure that the need for quarantine was taken extremely seriously. Ways must now be found to get that message across without raising the ire of new arrivals. Would it be feasible to make it a requirement for landing an aircraft from overseas that a short but hard-hitting video message in appropriate languages be played shortly before landing? We do not underestimate the difficulty of such a proposal. However, the importance of getting the message across is so great that all possible ways of doing so must be explored. Static displays, the distribution of 'fliers' and leaflets, posters, and pleas by prominent Australians all play their part, but they are clearly insufficient. Reinforcing the message by all available means is truly vital.

Recommendation 5.1.6

The education of incoming passengers about the importance of quarantine for the Australian environment and primary industry should be expanded. This could include inflight videos and articles in the inflight magazine.

5.2 Maintenance of appropriate and effective controls barriers

Recommendation 5.2.1

Surveillance at harbours and airports should be strengthened and the Northern Australia Quarantine Survey (NAQS ) should be continued. This could be achieved by increasing Commonwealth funded AQIS staff. Because the risk can potentially affect the whole community for the indefinite future, Commonwealth funding is appropriate.

In regard to applications for the importation of exotic species, the need to apply the 'precautionary principle' is essential for the protection of native ecosystems. This principle was formerly a driving force in Australian quarantine policy, but it appears to have became subject to strong objections, being perceived to be too obstructive to trade. Its re-introduction as a guiding principle now requires serious reconsideration, with the increased importance of protection for the native biota and ecosystems.

Recommendation 5.2.2

Procedures for the importation of living organisms, other than mammals and birds, needs to be greatly tightened up; restrictions on the import of fish and many types of plant are quite inadequate to meet environmental risks.

Recommendation 5.2.3

A highly conservative approach to import licences should be implemented. Instead of approving those species that are not on the prohibited list, the onus should be placed on the applicant to establish the risk-benefit balance for any species that has not been previously cleared for entry. In the assessment, the risk factors should include the possibility of vicarious species and pathogens inadvertently being carried on the species being applied for.

The vexatious question of the Commonwealth/States relationships also affects the exercise of quarantine in Australia. In this important regard, New Zealand has a decided advantage over Australia. In New Zealand quarantine breaches and the consequent economic and environmental impact are handled holistically as 'two sides of the same coin' and are not considered as separate entities under different jurisdictions, an unnecessary and unfortunate outcome of the existence of the Commonwealth and States within Australia.

Recommendation 5.2.4

Consideration should be given to adopting, as a model, relevant aspects of the New Zealand legislation on import of exotic organisms, which treats all species in the same way.

5.3 Contingency procedures to deal with incursions

5.3.1 Exotic pests and biological control

New insect pests and weeds will continue to arrive in neighbouring countries and, despite the best efforts of AQIS, many of these will sooner or later appear in Australia. Some will also come from further afield. The rate of intrusion of new insect pests has been (at least in recent years) greater than for all other unwanted organisms combined (see Section 4). Therefore, it is important to have contingency plans well developed in advance to eliminate new incursions at the first opportunity and, if this is not achieved to keep the new pest under control.

Contingency planning for the incursion of target pests and diseases of plants was recommended by the NAQS review, but for a limited number only and over a period of five years. Preparation of plans should commence as soon as possible and, if necessary with the help of consultants, be completed within two years. Reference is made elsewhere (Section 5.2) to the importance of these dossiers of information on each pest.

The higher priority recommended for surveying Torres Strait, Cape York and northeast Queensland is long overdue as a result of the history of actual invasions and the very high risk of further invasions. Not included, however, is the risk caused by the 40,000 or more visitors now travelling by road each year up into Cape York, many also visiting nearby Torres Strait Islands. In order for adequate surveys to be carried out in the regions in Australia and overseas that are the responsibility of Queensland NAQS personnel, their numbers need to be strengthened significantly.

The Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan (AusVetPlan) is a set of strategies and contingency plans to cope with the entry into Australia of any one of a set of major livestock diseases, including foot and mouth disease, screw-worm fly, and Asian honey bees. The arrangements deal with many complex administrative arrangements such as cost-sharing provisions between the Commonwealth and the States and cover specific technical actions such as use of sterile males for old world screw-worm, quarantine areas and livestock destruction etc. The plans are predicated on identification of the disease in domestic stock and the ability rapidly to control movements of stock in the affected area. Feral populations of domestic species, such as goats and pigs, pose a serious hazard to the control of exotic disease of stock. For instance, Hone and Pech (Journal of Environmental Management, 31, 173-84, 1990) estimate that, with current surveillance techniques, the time to detection of an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease virus (FMD) in feral pigs could range from 23 to 358 days, depending on the density of the pig population, and Pech and McIlroy (Journal of Applied Ecology, 27, 635-50, 1990) estimate that the velocity of spread in a moderate density of 1.4 pigs per square kilometer would be 2.8km per day. Using these minimum estimates for time of detection, the disease could cover an area of 50,000 square km when first detected and would already be out of control. These conclusions emphasise the importance of considering disease preparedness in relation to the whole environment, rather than from the perspective of the specific industry and user group only.

Recommendation 5.3.1.1

National contingency plans, such as AusVetPlan, which are developed for the identified high risk species, must be based on a thorough use of all relevant data and methodology. This should include population ecology of potential hosts and epidemiology of the target species, ecological modelling and game theory, leading to explicit risk assessment and realistic contingency plans. Current approved plans fall short of this.

Apart from screw-worm fly and honey bees, no comparable arrangements to AusVetPlan have been put in place for exotic invertebrate pests, plant diseases or weeds entering Australia. Clearly, this cannot be due to a lower perceived risk or lesser magnitude of economic or environmental impact; whitefly, Russian wheat aphid or western flower thrips are each capable of inflicting enormous losses on agriculture (see Section 4.1). In the case of Russian wheat aphid, contingency plans were developed and pre-emptive research was conducted during the 1980s, so that some state of preparedness has been developed to cope with its entry. No arrangements were in place before whitefly and western flower thrips entered Australia, and surprisingly little has been done since these latter pests, or weeds such as Chromolaena, entered Australia. Indeed, there is even debate about when and how frequently these pests have breached quarantine and what was the mode of entry, whether as illegal or legal imports.

It is only when identified exports are directly threatened, such as the incursion of papaya fruitfly in Cairns, that decisive action and the political will is evident (AQIS Bulletin, January-February 1996). Whitefly and western flower thrips are each likely to cause greater economic damage and production costs than the papaya fruitfly, but each of these is an incremental problem and therefore its impact is more insidious. Because of this, there was no obvious trigger for effective action to cope with these more significant incursions.

What is required is a national contingency plan for each major potential pest and some suitable title, such as AusPLANT, could be coined to indicate the existence of a plan, designed to handle quarantine risks associated with plant health that affect agriculture or the environment.

Recommendation 5.3.1.2

The Review Committee explore the feasibility of establishing the equivalent of AusVetPlan to cope with the wide range of risks to commercially important plant species through the incursion of insect pests, diseases and weeds into the country.

5.3.2 Essential role of taxonomists in developing preparedness.

There are many examples where taxonomic knowledge, or its absence, has had a major impact on quarantine issues both with export markets and with efficiency of our primary production systems. For example, citrus markets in Florida were at risk because of the detection of mite specimens in certain shipments. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) relied on the expertise and independence of CSIRO's Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC) to investigate the problem. It was established that not one, but four mite species were present in the shipments but, for a variety of reasons, none posed a problem to the USA. In another example shipments of table grapes to New Zealand were under threat because of records showing that a particular moth species occurred in Australia. Experts at ANIC demonstrated that these records were incorrect and the difficulty evaporated. Some might argue that recent taxonomic studies on the 'dorsalis' complex of fruit flies, revealing over 50 species in the complex was information we ' could have done without'! In the case of the papaya fruit fly incursion (Section 4.1.1) the taxonomic knowledge proved critical to resolving the problem. In that instance, ecological studies were also critical, and the situation would have been different if the technology on lures had been adopted, as recommended.

Failure to identify, for over a decade, the changa mole cricket as a 'new' and damaging pest (it entered Australia before 1983 but was not recognised until 1995) of pastures, bowling greens and golf courses, and delays in recognising the multiple entry of whitefly, western flower thrips, and the incursion of the spotted clover aphid, all illustrate the need for sound taxonomic capability in the country and a capacity within AQIS to use these skills effectively. A major concentration of these skills lies within the ANIC, but critical skills also reside in Museums, some State Departments and several Universities.

Whereas the number and importance of incursions of exotic pests into the USA and Australia is probably of similar magnitude, particularly insect pests (see Section 4), APHIS, the Agency responsible for plant quarantine in the US, pays an annual retainer of $US400,000 to the US Department of Agriculture Insect Collection in Beltsville to provide an identification service and other expert advice on risk assessment. Despite many discussions on this topic in recent years between AQIS officers and other relevant organisations, research providers in Australia are not adequately compensated for their services. These are presumed to be provided gratis to AQIS, which is inconsistent with the 'user pays' policy being applied to services provided by AQIS. It might be desirable to contract the larger providers such as the ANIC and pay such groups a retainer to provide an agreed set of services, with the costs ultimately being recouped from those who capture the benefits. Possibly such groups could subcontract out particular tasks to other organisations, if that is where the appropriate skills reside. At the very least, AQIS should acknowledge the role played by research agencies in assisting it in the discharge of its duties and support these agencies in their bid for appropriation resources.

Recommendation 5.3.2.1

The Academy strongly recommends that the Review confirm the essential role of research groups outside AQIS in maintaining Australia's quarantine capabilities. The Review should explore ways for these services to be properly costed and the respective organisations be paid for their services. Funding for this work by University and Museum taxonomists would be best managed through a peer review system, such as the ARC or NHMRC.

5.3.3 Plans for eradication of a new unwanted organism in Australia

A number of factors influence the ease and cost of eradication, amongst which are:

  • adequate monitoring and early detection. Refer to comments above on NAQS.
  • careful assessment of the country of origin and route of entry to Australia. See particularly the example given under Section 4.3.4.
  • rapid action after detection
  • availability of effective methods
  • sensitive methods to detect low populations
  • public acceptance

Recommendation 5.3.3.1

In the event of an incursion of a new pest species a high priority needs to be given to determining precisely how it entered Australia and from whence it came; surmise and conjecture are not sufficient.

Although eradication is possible for some pests, its cost (and sometimes public opposition to the methods involved) often preclude this option. An additional problem is the risk of re-infestation.

Eradication almost always involves the extensive use of pesticides. In the case of a few well-researched insect pests (e.g. fruit flies, screw-worm), it may involve the mass liberation of sterile males and, in some cases, it may be possible to arrange for long host-free periods. In the case of weeds, mechanical control may be a valuable aid to eradication. Critical, often, is the speed of taking appropriate action before the insect pest or weed has spread so widely that eradication is prohibitively expensive. For speed of action, it is necessary to have, in advance, a dossier of information for each pest (or group of pests if the measures for each would be identical) detailing the most up-to-date technology for eradication and the organisational framework necessary to implement it.

In relation to biological control, a special plea is made for the Review Committee to recommend a simplification of the very lengthy, cumbersome and complex procedures (involving some 20 separate Commonwealth and State authorities) before approval can be given by AQIS for the introduction of organisms for the biological control of insect pests and weeds.

Recommendation 5.3.3.2

The procedures required for the introduction of organisms for the biological control of existing pests should be reviewed, with the aim of facilitating their importation and release.

5.3.4 Long term management

The aim here is to maintain the pest population indefinitely below the threshold at which it causes economic damage: sometimes also to restrict or delay its spread to other areas.

This option is attractive because of the far lower initial cost than eradication. However, the cumulative long-term costs are often likely to be far greater, so the feasibility and cost of eradication should always be considered for a new intrusion.

Long term pest management may involve many methods other than those available for eradication. The introduction of adequately-specific natural enemies (classical biological control) is the most highly desirable single option.

Biological control aims to introduce and establish in Australia the natural enemies that maintain the exotic species at a low level in its region of origin - enemies that have not accompanied the pest to Australia. Australia has an unblemished record in the field of insect pests and weeds and, with impressive ratios of benefits to costs (probably on average in excess of 30:1). When classical biological control is carried out with long-established safeguards no unacceptable problems arise, the method is highly selective, non-contaminating and, once established, is self-sustaining. Of course, there are other components of pest management systems (cultural methods, use of resistant varieties, etc.) that can be valuable when biological control alone is inadequate.

5.3.5 Future of the National Facilities Initiative for quarantine capability in Northern Australia

The recent outbreak of whitefly and papaya fruit fly has highlighted the need to have adequate preparedness to deal with quarantine issues in the tropics and in particular to have the necessary research capacity in situ to support industries in the tropics.

A consortium has been established to plan and implement a replacement for outdated, outgrown and ineffectual containment facilities in the Brisbane area. A new, integrated complex, serving the northern Australian region is an integral component behind a broader concept for structural changes emerging for research providers supporting primary industry in northern Australia.

The complex is also intended to underpin the development of a broader biological technology park involving CSIRO, University of Queensland, the Queensland Departments of Lands and Primary Industries and the CRCs for Tropical Plant Pathology and Pest Management by providing an advanced capacity for the biological quarantine and biotechnological containment needs of northern Australia through the development of a high security containment complex.

The complex would have the potential to form a strong innovation cluster in northern Australia with emphasis on regional development, natural resource protection and sustainable primary industries. The cluster will become a collaborative framework for the integration of national and regional research, education and diffusion of biological sciences in northern Australia.

The complex would provide secure quarantine and containment conditions with the highest appropriate quarantine standards for the following:

  • insects and pathogens imported for biological control purposes
  • genetically manipulated insects, pathogens and plants
  • insect vectors of diseases of humans and livestock
  • plant pathogens.

The biological resource complex would enable or enhance:

  • research on biological control options for the management of tropical agricultural pests and diseases, and environmental weeds
  • research on biopesticides as environmentally benign agents for the biological control of pests of humans, livestock and pastures
  • the application of biotechnological and biological control solutions for chemical residues in and pests of tropical agri-export products
  • the application of advanced biotechnology solutions to reduce the increasing health risks posed to humans and livestock due to vector borne diseases prevalent in northern Australia
  • research on the development of genetically transformed horticultural crops for northern Australia
  • research on the development of genetically transformed aquaculture products.

Recommendation 5.3.5.1

The Academy recommends that the Review Committee support the initiative to develop a modern quarantine and containment facility in Northern Australia. The emphasis should be on plant health relevant to sustainable agriculture and protection of Australia's biodiversity.

5.4 Funding and cost recovery

Compared to the sums spent on military defence, the budget for defence against exotic pests, which pose a more insidious threat, is very small indeed. There is a view that, because in the long term all organisms capable of invading various environments will come to do so, there is no point in attempting to slow the process. The Academy challenges the premise and rejects the conclusion, believing that it is irresponsible not to take every possible action to slow the spread to Australia of potential pests and diseases. On economic grounds alone, it is far cheaper to prevent the entry of a pest than to control it once it is in Australia. That being said, the costs of the recommendations set out above represent a substantial cost to the country and it is appropriate to consider how or from whom the costs should be recovered. The purposes and benefits of quarantine protection may be considered under three headings:

  • Costs of protecting the Australian environment and its native biota
  • Costs of protecting Australian primary production from foreign pathogens and competitors
  • Costs of ensuring that Australian produce meets the quality criteria of other countries, in order to maintain lucrative export markets.

It is fairly clear that the costs under the first head must be borne by the whole country because all benefit. Conversely, the costs involved in the third head can be largely, if not entirely, recovered from the exporter, who benefits from Australia's reputation as a clean country, and who benefits from the assurance provided by AQIS that the products being exported have met international criteria. The area of contention and risk relates to the second head, where the individual importer may benefit in the short term but the long term costs of negligence are borne by the whole country.

An example is the livestock industry, which has an understandable desire to import bulk grain when overseas sources are cheaper. While the shift was initially triggered as a 'one-off' by drought-induced collapse in local supplies, the demand for overseas feed-lot grain is unlikely to be completely reversed with favourable seasons. The intensive livestock industries also consider that the local grain industry may not be able to supply its long term needs if the livestock industry continues to expand on current projections. The up-country transport of grain containing insect pests, diseases and weed seeds for local disinfestation treatment by the relevant industries will place great demand on existing technologies and the robustness of procedures which rely on 'quality assurance' concepts.

The Lindsay Report did not anticipate the major policy changes, structural reorganisations and down-sizing program that have been implemented within AQIS over the past five years. For example, Recommendation 41 stated that user charges should only be levied at the border 'for commercial importations where a treatment which is not a precondition for quarantine clearance is undertaken by the quarantine service at the importers' request'. This recommendation was not accepted in the Government's Response of Dec 1988 (1), but the Government's policy did not foreshadow implementation of full cost recovery for all operations, including all import activities.

This policy is clearly articulated in AQIS's brochure titled 'Quarantine Inspection: the QA Alternatives' which states 'But, now that AQIS recovers 100 per cent of the cost of its services, the cost of inspection is a major consideration for importers. It is now possible for importers to introduce their own controls to address quarantine requirements'. Importers are attracted to this alternative because there is a real potential to reduce import costs and increase the flexibility of their operations.' This matter is further elaborated in the AQIS submission to the Senate Committee of Enquiry into Rural and Regional Transport, 1995.

Thus industry participation and quality assurance are corollaries of a government decision to recover the operational costs of AQIS. In the 1993-4 financial year AQIS recovered $120 million of its $180 million operating costs from its clients. Do these figures imply that AQIS is two thirds the way towards achieving the Government's policy objectives of full cost recovery? Presumably some portion of AQIS's budget should derive from appropriation in recognition of its role as policy advisor to Government or for services such as airport terminal inspection where cost recovery for services to the travelling public would not be practical.

In seeking greater industry participation, AQIS has encountered another significant challenge relating to container fumigation of commodities such as timber. This is illustrated by a specific example. In correspondence with Rentokil, UK AQIS states 'at some future date AQIS will no longer recognise fumigation certificates from all overseas fumigation companies. To gain listing as an approved fumigator, companies will need to submit to AQIS records and documented procedures to show that they have a Quality Assurance system in place to fumigate according to Australian requirements.'

We quote from Rentokil some of its concerns about the direction taken by AQIS.

' It is our experience in the past that the Australian Quarantine Regulations have not been adequately monitored and supervised and it will not come as a surprise to you to know that in many countries your regulations are not followed and the work is carried out at the lowest price which means that corners will be cut.'

' when our people quote to undertake work it will be the right price for the job, taking into consideration the amount of work to be done, particularly if the containers are damaged or leaking. More often than not, our quotations are not accepted and the work is carried out by unqualified, inexperienced companies who consistently flout your regulations and undertake the work at the lowest price. There seems to be no enforcement and therefore over the years the standard has been undermined.'

'and our company (a company which has got the worldwide abilities and resources to conform to the standard) may, in many countries, decide that it is not economically viable for us to compete which I believe would be a pity.'

This correspondence indicates that Australia's interests are not necessarily being well addressed by the course of action being imposed on AQIS by government policy. The experience in the USA, as interpreted by the US Congress's Office of Technology Assessment, on 'Fee for Service' where there are significant externalities which are ignored by economic rationalists is one of concern. They conclude 'Typically, fees are structured to raise revenue, not to recoup damages or to change people's behaviour.'

Recommendation 5.4.1

The Academy fully agrees with the application of cost recovery from the user for those activities of AQIS where a user, who captures the benefits of the service, can be identified, e.g. the issue of export licenses, provision of inspection services and quality assurance certification. A clear distinction, however, needs to be made between export costs, for which user pays, and the costs to Australia of importing unwanted foreign organisms. In the latter case, the risk of failure is borne, not by the importer alone but by the whole country and for a very long time. For this reason the surveillance must be impeccable and the cost therefore borne by the Commonwealth.

5.5 Quarantine policy framework

5.5.1 The place of AQIS in the bureaucracy

The Academy draws attention to some of the limitations of AQIS' current relationship with DPIE. AQIS is one of the seven operating groups in DPIE. Its mission is subsumed in DPIE's mission which is ' to contribute to the sustainable, competitive growth of Australia's resource based industries'. Throughout the Academy's submission we emphasise that quarantine embraces environmental and health issues, which fall outside the scope of DPIE's mission. The Academy also notes that AQIS' primary interests are export and market focused. Incursions and threats are evaluated, and action taken with this emphasis in mind. For example, pests that threaten an overseas market attract a greater response than pests that largely impinge on sustainable and competitive production; incursions whose main initial impact is perceived to be environmental (eg Siam weed) receive less attention still. Despite the current perceived imbalance, the Academy does not believe the position would necessarily be improved by shifting AQIS to another Department.

Recommendation 5.5.1.1

The Academy recommends that careful consideration be given to establishing AQIS as a Statutory Authority

Whether AQIS becomes a Statutory Authority or remains in the Department of Primary Industries and Energy (DPIE), it is important that mechanisms are in place for AQIS to seek and receive relevant and appropriate advice from other Departments, such as Health and Environment, and with Agencies such as BRS, ABARE and ANCA, and with CSIRO. The Academy believes that Australia is not in a strong position to deal with some threats to its economy and environment and accordingly the Review should explore more appropriate mechanisms than Interdepartmental Committees to redress the situation. Most importantly, there should be strong and sustained links with the relevant experts in the Universities and Museums. The Government's belated but dramatic response to the papaya fruitfly incursion, and its failure to respond adequately to other major breaches to Australia's quarantine barriers suggests that there needs to be much better linkages between AQIS and other agencies.

Recommendation 5.5.1.2

The Academy requests the Review Committee investigate the linkages between AQIS and all relevant agencies, and ABARE should be asked to examine the relevant policies underpinning quarantine aspects of exports and imports to determine if any anomalies exist.

Recommendation 5.5.1.3

Strong links should be established between AQIS, DEST, EPA, ANCA, CSIRO and the Department of Health to ensure policy, practice and resources reflect the comprehensive aspects of quarantine.

5.5.2 Quarantine and Inspection Advisory Council (QIAC)

This Advisory Council (QIAC) was set up by the Minister of Primary Industries and Energy, Alan Griffith in 1992. QIAC's role is described in its Terms of Reference as facilitating 'the development by the Commonwealth Government of sound, consistent and comprehensive policies in relation to quarantine and inspection services through the active, coordinated participation of those industries involved in quarantine and inspection services and in reviewing developments in the policy formulation process'.

While the remit of QIAC is broad, there is a clear emphasis on trade, especially Australia's export industries and the commercial and economic aspects of AQIS's operations such as 'charging regimes' and 'performance indicators'. The membership of QIAC also reflects this perspective, with members being drawn principally from primary industries and downstream food processing and export related industries.

The Academy recognises the importance of protecting Australia's export trade interests but stresses that quarantine embraces a wider range of responsibilities, including human health and especially environmental issues. As noted elsewhere in this submission, the entry of exotic pests, weeds and diseases can materially affect the efficiency of production of our major export commodities, including meat products, grains and horticulture. The presence of these organisms can reduce the competitiveness of these industries, even render them inviable in extreme cases, and are likely to have enormous adverse impacts on the environment. The current position makes bad economic sense in the short term, as well as being indefensible economically and environmentally in the long term.

Recommendation 5.5.2.1

The Academy proposes that QIAC should have a broader mandate and its functions should clearly indicate that it is expected to advise the Minister on all quarantine matters, which include the wellbeing of the environment and human health, and that its membership should be broadened to include members with backgrounds in health, science and environment.

© 2017 Australian Academy of Science

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