Audit finds government response to biosecurity rule-breakers ‘largely inappropriate’

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday June 8, 2021

(Image: Adobe/Gabriel Cassan)

The Australian National Audit Office has released a scathing report on the commonwealth’s arrangements for detecting and responding to non-compliance with biosecurity rules.

Australia’s biosecurity laws set out plant and animal biosecurity requirements, such as bans on the importation of certain goods, to prevent pests and diseases from crossing the border.

In an audit report released on Monday, the audit office has found the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s (DAWE) arrangements for dealing with rule-breakers are ‘largely inappropriate’.

“In the absence of frameworks, plans or targets to determine the desired outcomes of its regulation, the department is unable to demonstrate that its response to non-compliance is effective at managing biosecurity risks,” it said.

DAWE’s compliance framework was also found to be ‘largely inappropriate’ due to a number of reasons, including:

  • Ineffective intelligence gathering and management,
  • No established framework for assessing and managing risk across the biosecurity system,
  • A lack of plans to support the approach to managing biosecurity compliance,
  • No appropriate performance framework.

READ MORE: Government trialling machine learning tech to detect pests at shipping ports

While DAWE’s arrangements for detecting non-compliance are ‘partially appropriate’, the report noted that undetected non-compliance is on the rise.

“The targeting of detection activities is not supported by a framework to allocate resources to pathways or emerging threats proportionately to risk, but there are partially appropriate processes to target individual items and entities within pathways,” it said.

“Key limitations to procedures, systems and the conduct of detection activities prevent them from fully supporting the detection of non-compliance.”

ANAO noted that the department has access to a range of regulatory tools for dealing with non-compliance, such as monitoring and investigation powers, letters of warning and advice, administrative actions, civil sanctions, and even criminal sanctions.

Despite this, the audit found DAWE’s use of regulatory tools is only ‘partially effective’, with the department failing to use ‘the full suite’ of tools available.

ANAO has made eight recommendations to the department, including the implementation of a framework to assess and manage risk across the entire biosecurity system, and a performance framework for biosecurity regulation.

DAWE has welcomed the audit findings, and accepted all recommendations.

“The biosecurity system must continue to evolve to enable appropriate management of new and emerging threats both domestically and globally. In this context, the department recognises there is a need to mature our regulatory capability to meet new and emerging challenges,” department secretary Andrew Metcalfe wrote.

“Substantial progress has been made to implement a suite of regulatory practice improvements, and the federal government’s 2021–22 budget biosecurity package will further support the department to enhance its biosecurity functions including its compliance program.”

READ MORE: Biosecurity threats like pandemics will continue to rise if Australia doesn’t act, CSIRO finds


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