Media release

Biosecurity boost to clamp down on borders

15 January 2017

  • 12 million mail items and four million passengers were screened and almost 3,500 infringement notices were issued for items that posed a risk to Australia—from a wild boar head to human skulls, plants and seeds, live reptiles, whole fresh fish, dried lizards, frogs and spiders.
  • $1.09 million in grants to develop new technology, scientific testing and diagnostic tools to detect animal diseases.
  • New Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS) to better ensure that incoming vessels understand and comply with Australia’s biosecurity conditions.
  •  A wild boar head, bear claw, human skulls, live reptiles and even dried spiders were among thousands of items intercepted by Australia's strict biosecurity border controls which resulted in 3,500 infringement notices. 
Latest Department of Agriculture and Water Resources data shows 12 million mail items and four million passengers were screened, along with 1 million cargo consignments assessed in the 2015-16 financial year, uncovering a range of items that posed a risk to Australian biosecurity including plants and seeds, whole fresh fish, dried lizards, frogs and spiders.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said the Coalition Government would inject a $1 million investment in new animal health surveillance and aquatic information systems to strengthen Australia’s biosecurity, protect the health and well-being of Australian animals and plants, and our $57 billion agricultural industries.

“This $1.09 million investment in Australia’s animal health surveillance and aquatic information systems will mean better tools to monitor for and identify potential biosecurity risks like avian influenza, infectious salmon anaemia or foot-and mouth disease that could devastate our agricultural industries and threaten our wildlife,” Minister Joyce said.

“Projects funded by these grants will speed up our emergency response capability by providing new technology that makes diagnosis quicker and more accurate so that biosecurity authorities can better manage animal diseases if they make it to our waters and our shores.

"Australia is particularly sensitive about biosecurity, and it is everyone's responsibility to keep us safe. If you take our biosecurity laws as a joke, you take our nation as a joke.

These 10 grants, funded under the Agricultural Competiveness Whitepaper, will help ensure that our biosecurity surveillance programs can better monitor for risks, and the enhanced diagnostic capabilities will ensure we can respond to the threats more efficiently and reduce the spread and economic impact of a disease incident."

Mr Joyce said the grants would fund studies into antimicrobial resistance in pigs and chickens, nationally co-ordinated surveillance programs, a producer based surveillance network and boosting diagnostic capability including establishing a national approach for the use of emerging surveillance tools such as next-generation sequencing.

Minister Joyce said the government had put in place an improved vessel biosecurity clearance system across the nation for improved compliance and enhanced measures to more effectively manage risk.

The Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS) was brought in to better manage the various and significant risks that incoming vessels pose,” Minister Joyce said.

“It will ensure that more incoming vessels understand our rules to help them comply, saving industry time and money and reducing non-compliance.

“With MARS, the Vessel Compliance Scheme is now in operation.  The scheme provides greater transparency of what department officers look for when boarding a vessel and the consequences of non-compliance using a demerit system.

“It will also enable improved recording of data—with a single online portal for industry to meet their pre-arrival reporting obligations and provide information relating to the vessel’s biosecurity status—which allows us to better target high risk vessels and reduce unnecessary intervention for those with a history of following the laws.

Biosecurity is an ongoing battle from a number of fronts, including regulation of goods, vessels and people at our borders and offshore through setting import requirements for goods arriving in Australia and our work to build biosecurity capability of our neighbouring countries.

“As an island nation, biosecurity will always be critically important for Australia to safeguard our farms and broader agriculture industries, the environment and the community from pests and diseases.”

For more information on Australia’s biosecurity work, visit 
  • The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences estimates that Australia’s biosecurity system is worth up to $17,500 a year for the average farmer
  • Onshore surveillance is vital in Australia’s protection from disease that can be brought to Australia via non-regulated pathways such as sea and air currents and migration of birds.
  • In the past year Australia has had to manage a range of significant biosecurity issues, including white spot disease in prawns in Queensland, Pacific oyster mortality syndrome in Tasmania, Khapra beetle in South Australia, detections of exotic mosquitoes and harmful seasonal pests like the brown marmorated stink bug.  We also boosted our fight against red imported fire ants and resolved issues relating to the Panama TR4 infested banana farm.