Another busy year for Australian biosecurity

What do human bones, a live toad, holy water from the Ganges and a birds' nest have in common?

They were all among the more than 393,000 biosecurity risk items stopped at the border after being brought in by international travellers in 2023.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt, said biosecurity teams had a busy 2023 across our international airports, screening over 7.5 million passengers and intercepting 393,000 biosecurity risk items.

“Keeping Australia free of exotic pests and diseases that wreak havoc in other countries is one of our most important tasks as a nation,” Minister Watt said.

“Our biosecurity system safeguards our environment, industries, plant and human health from exotic pest and disease risks.

“It also underpins the productivity and sustainability of our $86 billion agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries.

“Nearly 500 tonnes of biosecurity risk material were intercepted across our airports in 2023 with commonly encountered items including beef, rice, pork, seeds, mixed herbs, spices and chillies.

“These items could have been carrying exotic pests and diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, Xylella and Khapra beetle which would devastate our cropping livestock industries.

“There were also many unusual items including human bones, tropical fish, hatching eggs, scorpions, frogs, dried caterpillars, bottles of rice wine with cobras in them, dried duck kidneys, birds’ nests, canned pork liver spread and chicken intestines.

“Our biosecurity detector dogs showed what good noses they have detecting even the smallest traces of odour in passengers’ luggage.

“Our capable canines screened over 806,000 passengers and intercepted over 32,000 biosecurity risk items.

“This is why the Albanese Government has increased the number of detector dogs at our airports, after years of Coalition cuts.”

Minister Watt said travellers who fail to declare risk items on their Incoming Passenger Card risk significant financial penalties and may have their visas cancelled.

“Over the past four years, nearly 22,000 international travellers received an infringement for breaching biosecurity rules, including not declaring items.

“In the same period there have been 22 visa cancellations on biosecurity grounds.

“Travellers who have their visa cancelled are removed from Australia on the earliest available flight and can face an exclusion period of three years before they are able to reapply for a visa.

“Our maritime biosecurity teams did an outstanding job keeping unwanted pests and diseases like the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and foot-and-mouth disease off our shores.

“In 2023, they carried out nearly 17,000 inspections and managed 19,796 vessel arrivals at 107 international seaports.

“The Albanese Government is serious about biosecurity, and we will keep working to ensure the measures we have in place safeguard Australia from deadly biosecurity risks now and into the future.

“That’s why we increased our biosecurity funding by $1 billion over four years, turning around the biosecurity cuts we inherited from the Coalition.

“By doing your part and being aware of risk items, you can help Australia maintain its global reputation for producing high quality food and keep our industries and environment safe from exotic pests and diseases.”


More than 393,000 risk items were intercepted across Australia’s international airports in 2023.

These were distributed across Australia in line with traveller arrivals: Sydney and Melbourne saw the highest number of interceptions in 2023: 

  • Adelaide – over 19,000 items (4.4% of interceptions) Interesting/notable find: dried duck kidneys.
  • Brisbane – over 58,000 items (13.2% of interceptions) Interesting/notable finds: Six live brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) in a horse saddle, live tarragon plants, and a live slug.
  • Cairns – over 3,000 items (0.8% of interceptions) Interesting/notable find: 3 boxes of dirt and bulbs.
  • Canberra – nearly 200 items (0.1% of interceptions) Interesting/notable finds: Holy water from the Ganges River.
  • Coolangatta – over 6,000 items (1.4% interceptions) Interesting/notable finds: goose fat, 8 packets of sausages
    Darwin – over 5,000 items (1.4% of interceptions) Interesting/notable find: Birds’ nests.
  • Melbourne – over 107,000 items (28.9% of interceptions) Interesting/notable finds: A frog found in a plastic bag and chicken intestines.
  • Perth – over 61,000 items (15.2% of interceptions) Interesting/notable find: A whole banana tree, complete with root system and soil.
  • Sydney – almost 129,000 items (35% of interceptions) Interesting/notable find: Live toad.

As of 1 July 2023, the Albanese Government increased the penalties for infringement notices which are now issued as: 

  • 2 penalty units $626
  • 6 penalty units $1,878
  • 12 penalty units $3,756
  • 20 penalty units $6,260