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Biosecurity Bill 2019

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 23 May 2019

Tags: Biosecurity, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank Dr Broad for a very thorough and well-argued contribution.

The Greens strongly support the new Biosecurity Act of 2019. We recognise that it is the product of about five years in total of very thorough work on the part of the department working with key stakeholders like the Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association, the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, Fruit Growers Tasmania, and other stakeholders who have a critical interest in the health of our systems here in Tasmania and in making sure we have very strong biosecurity protections.

The Greens would argue, and I am sure the minister and Dr Broad would agree, for an island with a clean, green brand and reputation we have a lot to protect and we have a lot to lose if our biosecurity framework is not strong and well resourced.

The world has changed considerably since work on this new biosecurity legislation began in 2014. Back in 2014 global atmospheric CO2 concentrations were at about 400 parts per million. We have just ticked over into 415 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 and CO2 equivalent. The world is in a state of climate emergency and that will place enormous pressure on our ecosystems and our capacity to be resilient and adaptive. That is why having a strong biosecurity framework is so important to protect not only our producers but also our environment and public health.

Tasmania's biosecurity has historically benefited from cold winters and long, mild growing seasons that make it difficult for pests to maintain a population, for example, the fruit fly. As we know, the Pacific oyster mortality syndrome and blueberry rust are both more prevalent in warmer temperatures. Fruit flies struggle to establish populations at low temperatures. Tasmania's 2017 fruit fly strategy identifies fruit fly as the variable of most significance in Tasmania. POMS was first detected in Tasmanian waters in 2016 and the most recent blueberry rust incursion was also in 2016-17. The climate emergency results in higher temperatures that makes the Tasmanian climate more suitable for pests and diseases previously not present in Tasmania.

Cuts to climate research and action on a climate emergency pose a significant threat to Tasmania's future biosecurity efforts. It is a fact that some of the most significant biosecurity events that are now defined in the legislation that we are talking about today, such as fruit fly, POMS and blueberry rust, can be directly linked to global heating. We have a fruit fly strategy for Tasmania that ends in two years, so I would certainly be looking forward to seeing the work that Biosecurity Tasmania undertakes in order to contemporise that fruit fly strategy for a warmer climate. We have a fruit fly strategy that ends in 2050 and a climate strategy that ends in two years.

There are a number of provisions in this legislation that are extremely important and give Biosecurity Tasmania clarity around the powers they have to prevent biosecurity events and damage to Tasmania's producers, exports and human health. The provision of a general biosecurity duty is an extremely important modernisation of the biosecurity framework in Tasmania. I understand that Biosecurity Tasmania wants to ensure that we have a culture in Tasmania of safeguarding our biosecurity and by having a general biosecurity duty defined in law that should drive cultural change.

The point I would make here though is that while it is a criminal offence to breach that general biosecurity duty, in Tasmania we have an unfortunate history of allowing industry to get away with not meeting their legal or community responsibilities. The most obvious and recent example is of the damage that has been done by the fish farming industry in Macquarie Harbour, D'Entrecasteaux Channel and now moving into Storm Bay. It has been failure of the regulatory authorities in this state to hold industry up to the law and community standards for their conduct.

I hope first of all that there are no breaches of the general biosecurity duty and that all producers and importers take that duty very responsibly, but if there are Biosecurity Tasmania feels that they have the political support to take the action that is needed and of course they will need extra resourcing. There are requirements in this legislation that will demand of Biosecurity Tasmania more people and more resources in order to meet their obligations under this act. We have not seen a substantial increase in the resources into Biosecurity Tasmania for some time and it is necessary that Biosecurity Tasmania has those extra resources allocated to it and we will certainly be looking for that in the state Budget tomorrow.

We need more biosecurity staff, we need more detector dogs and we need to be realistic about the threats that are coming down the line and the risks, for example, that are associated with the Hobart runway extension and the fact that we will be taking international flights into Hobart Airport. That of course will require a much stronger Biosecurity Tasmania and Customs presence at Hobart Airport. I would like to ask the minister on the record now what kind of forward planning has he initiated and is Biosecurity Tasmania undertaking for the introduction of international flights to Tasmania? Just as imports to Tasmania over sea can present the risk of a biosecurity event, international flights can be vectors for biosecurity threats. If the minister could apply his mind to that and provide an answer that would be good.

I also have a question for the minister in relation to permitted matter under the legislation and the level of resourcing that will be allocated to permitted matter. In Part 2 clause 19 it says:

The Minister may, by notice published in the Gazette, declare any biosecurity matter or class of biosecurity matter to be a permitted matter.

Could the minister outline to the House the process for determining what is a permitted matter and what level of resourcing will be allocated to this regime? That would be helpful.

I also note, as Dr Broad and the minister pointed out, that this legislation applies the reasonableness test, that an animal, plant or other thing may be 'reasonably expected' to be a carrier. There is allowance for a reasonable suspicion of infection and infestation. That is a really important tool if we are going to apply the precautionary principle to biosecurity matters in Tasmania to enable Biosecurity Tasmania officers and their delegated persons to apply that reasonableness test.

I want to thank the department for the thorough briefing. I did not ask for three briefings as Dr Broad did, but Dr Woodruff and I had a good couple of hours with the department and talked through this very substantial legislation and came away from that briefing more convinced than ever that this is good, strong legislation. It clarifies the powers of Biosecurity Tasmania and the responsibilities that are on all of us to protect biosecurity in this state but it also brings together about seven pieces of legislation under this act.

I would like you to provide some clarity on clause 36, entry to premises by a biosecurity auditor, which says:

(1) A biosecurity auditor who is also an authorised officer may perform his or her functions as a biosecurity auditor on premises entered under his or her functions as an authorised officer.

Subclause (3) says that:

Nothing in this section prevents a biosecurity auditor from -

entering or remaining on any premises, or doing anything else on premises, with the consent of the occupier of the premises; or

entering or remaining in any public place while that place is open to the public.

Could the minister provide some clarity about the circumstances under which an auditor or another authorised person may enter a premises without the consent of the producer or the property owner?

Clause 38 of the legislation talks about the processes for accrediting people as biosecurity certifiers. Could the minister provide some information to the House on what sort of qualifications a biosecurity certifier would be required to have?

From Biosecurity Tasmania's point of view, what kind of monitoring process is there of the work of biosecurity auditors?

With the enactment of a general biosecurity duty, while ignorance is never a defence under the law, this duty requires of the government and Biosecurity Tasmania a very thorough community education and engagement process. We did touch on that in the briefing the other day. Could the minister outline to the House what steps will be taken to inform the broader community, as well as importers and other producers, of their general biosecurity duty? What level of resourcing will be allocated to that community engagement process? Dr Broad noted that the failure to comply with a general biosecurity duty can lead to, for an individual, a fine not exceeding 2500 penalty units or a term of imprisonment, not exceeding 48 months. That is a remarkably strong penalty for someone who does the wrong thing by Tasmania's brand, by its exporters and by its people. We are pleased to see that it is a criminal offence for someone to wilfully or negligently breach their general biosecurity duty.

Would the minister provide some clarity, in the form of an example, to clause 73(5) -

It is a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section if the defendant establishes that he or she did not notify an authorised officer in respect of a biosecurity event, as requirement of the section, because the defendant had reasonable grounds to believe that the biosecurity event was widely and publicly known at the time the defendant allegedly committed the offence.

While that seems clear in the way it is described, I would like to understand what those circumstances might be? Is it that, if there is a biosecurity event, for example, a fruit fly incursion in the north of the state and on Flinders Island and another grower in the region detects fruit fly on their property and does not notify Biosecurity Tasmania under the provisions of this act by exercising their general biosecurity duty, is that a defence? That is what I want to understand.

There are important transparency provisions in this legislation that require Biosecurity Tasmania to either publish, in the Gazette or on the website, certain permits.

At the moment, under Permits clause 99(2) -

Despite subsection (1) [a permit which is issued by the secretary or an authorised officer under this section], the following types of permit may only be issued by the Secretary, the Chief Veterinary Officer, or the Chief Plant Protection Officer:

(a) an emergency permit;

(b) a prohibited matter permit;

(c) a prohibited dealing permit;

(d) a group permit.

Clause 242 talks about the Evidence of publication of instruments on website-

The Secretary is to cause a record to be kept of the publication on the department website of the following:

(a) an emergency order;

(b) a control order;

(c) a general biosecurity direction;

(d) a group permit;

(e) any other notice, order, declaration, instrument or documents that may be made or given under this act by publication on the department website.

As far as I can see, minister, the –


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, before the lunch break, I was talking about some of the transparency provisions in the legislation and was hoping the minister might able to respond to the question that was asked about the confined publication list, which is the 'emergency order, a control order, a general biosecurity division, a group permit or any other order, declaration, instrument or document that may be made or given under this act by publication on the department's website'.

In part 7 Permits, what the Secretary, the Chief Veterinary Officer or the Chief Plant Protection Officer only can issue is an emergency permit, a prohibited matter permit, a permitted dealing permit and a group permit.

Can the minister explain why, for example, there would be, under this legislation, no apparent publication of a prohibited matter permit or the declaration of a prohibited matter or a prohibited dealing permit? What level of transparency will there be about those dealings and activities in biosecurity matters that will be assessed by Biosecurity Tasmania auditors or authorised persons?

I would have thought that maximum transparency in this space is in the public interest. It is also in the interest of making sure that producers and all other people involved in those different sectors of the economy that are impacted by biosecurity matter by this legislation are aware of what, for example, is a prohibited matter, what is a permitted matter and so on.

I would like to have some clarity for the House on when the biosecurity compendium might be available and released and what measures will be put in place for transparency around the biosecurity compendium. It is a living document that will reside on the department's website. What are the plans for ensuring all primary producers, importers and other people involved in sectors that are impacted by this legislation are engaged in making sure there is a deep understanding of the biosecurity compendium.

As I mentioned earlier in my contribution, we know that the biosecurity risk to Tasmania has increased as a result of global heating and the current climate emergency, and as I slightly fumbled my contribution earlier, the fact is we have a fruit fly strategy that extends to 2050 and a climate strategy that ends in 2021, so there is huge body of work that needs to be done to make sure there is complete alignment between the work of Biosecurity Tasmania, the strategies it has in place to deal with risks and threats - and also should it come to it, a biosecurity event - and the state's response to the climate crisis.

I cannot let this opportunity go by without mentioning to the House, because no member from either of the major parties in this place had the courage to go downstairs into the reception room where there were hundreds of young people, young mums, grandmothers, granddads, dads and mums watching the debate. This job can be really difficult. Everyone in this place knows that. It is quite difficult at times as well as immensely rewarding and a privilege to be a member of parliament, but I have not had an experience in my 11 years in parliament quite as hard as walking into that room, because there were young people there who were in tears.

I spoke to a young mum of two small children who were with her, both under the age of four, and she was fighting back the tears because she did not want to see those other young people in there see her cry. That is exactly the way I felt when I walked in there - stricken for them that this parliament sent such an appalling message. You can spin it on either side of this House any way you like, but what this parliament did today on the obvious fact that we are in a climate emergency was betray those young people, and they knew it because they had watched the whole bloody debate. They had watched the whole thing. They are intelligent, they are engaged, they are terrified and they saw this parliament betray them.

I hope every member who voted against the declaration of a climate emergency is able to front young people -

Dr Broad - We did not -

Ms O'CONNOR - I am not going to engage with you anymore. You have betrayed young people, you have betrayed my kids. You betrayed the kids who were there from Elizabeth College, Hobart College, Rosny College, Taroona High and primary schools around the south of the state. Labor betrayed them because they are funded, like the Liberals, by the fossil fuel lobby. We had the Queensland Premier out there today saying to the newly-elected coal-loving Prime Minister, 'Bring on Adani, hurry up the approval', so do not lecture us in this place about -

Dr Broad - I am pointing out the fact that we did not vote against the climate emergency.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do not lecture us in this place about how much you care because as elected representatives we can say all manner of things. We can express a view, we can express a concern and we can express support, but when the crunch comes what matters in a place like this, as it mattered in the UK Parliament and the Irish Parliament and in the ACT Parliament and in 528 councils around the world - is how we vote. One of the things Labor has made a hallmark of its practices in recent years is to hand-wring on environmental issues, to virtue-signal to the community and then to vote completely the opposite way.

To be honest, Madam Speaker, I am filled with disgust by this vote today. I have never walked into a room of so many distressed people. I did not know what to say to them because I am as distressed as they are, except I will not be alive as long as they will. They will be dealing with unholy mess we are leaving them long after we are all in the ground. What I said to them is this: we will never give up on the science, on the truth and on the urgent imperative to take strong action on climate change. At times like this, when it is easy to collapse into despair, I remind myself of what the great artist Banksy said, 'If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit'.

That is our message to the young people who watched this debate today and to all the concerned people who came along today, and I am telling members of this House they were not all greenies. They were not.

Dr Woodruff - Quite a few were Labor people who are never going to vote Labor again.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is interesting the point that you make, Dr Woodruff, and thank you for leading me there, but when you have a look at the booth data from the federal election in those booths where at the 2018 state election people parked their vote with Labor - and these are booths in South Hobart, Hobart City, Glenorchy central, West Hobart - people came back to the Greens. They came back to the Greens because we know we will never let them down. They know we will never pull this sort of stunt that they did in this place today.

I have said it before and I will say it again, people expect environmental perfidy from the Liberals and the Coalition. They have seen the Prime Minister smooching a lump of coal in parliament, but there is a higher expectation in the community on the Labor Party, there just is. That is why at the 2018 state election soft Greens voters went over and parked their vote with Labor because Labor said they would do the right thing on poker machines, those toxic and lethal machines. Now they know that Labor is simply not to be trusted.

Before Dr Broad interjects and has a crack at me, I bet London to a brick I know more about the Labor Party than he. I grew up in a Labor family, I worked for the Labor Party, I worked for Paul Keating and I worked for Duncan Kerr. I understand this machine. I also understand that in the last 10 years or so the machine is rusting and rotten at its core. It stands for nothing except power itself.

Madam Speaker, I have put on the record a number of questions. If I could just be heard very briefly for a bit longer, I want to acknowledge the fantastic work of people in the agency on this legislation and the really collaborative process that has led to the development of this bill. I want to acknowledge that at the front line of our defences every single day are Biosecurity Tasmania staff and officers. It is magnificent work that they do. They are keeping our island, our exporters and our sectors safe. This bill is very much worthy of the entire parliament's support.