Biosecurity review suggests 'increasing and evolving' threat at borders

A report reviewing risks at the border says New Zealand's biosecurity status is facing an "increasing and evolving" threat.

It identified several significant weaknesses, saying the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) must "harden its focus" at the mail centre, and suggests ways of better utilising detector dogs.

Nearly 7 million people arrive in New Zealand every year. The review says more modern technology is needed; like additional real time tomography scanners, which provide three dimensional images of bags, to combat an "increasing and evolving threat" to biosecurity.  

"The technology being talked about we started research on last year and we have one in action...The technology is very new, and so rushing out and buying one today won't help us," Roger Smith, of Biosecurity NZ, said.

The review also found "significant weakness in the overall handling of cruise ships".

Newshub revealed on February 10 unaccredited vessels docked here in the 2017-2018 year without checks by dogs - the report says accreditation should be compulsory.

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"I found it outrageous that we would have unaccredited cruise ships," Minister for Biosecurity Damian O'Connor said.

"They will all be accredited. If not, they will go through such a rigorous process of biosecurity checks that it might not be worth them coming."

Last year, Newshub revealed 17 dog handlers left the Auckland programme and the green lane was not monitored by dogs between 2am and 5am.

The review noted even "low level of leakage" via the green lane means "thousands of risk-carrying passengers could exit international airports".

MPI says it's now decided to close that gap.

"It is a low risk period, but we have closed down that area and when there are no dogs available we don't have a green lane operating," Smith said.

The review says more dogs are not needed but recommends more efficient use of them.

MPI says it will hire another seven handlers this year.

The review, conducted by an expert from Australia, says our biosecurity services are "world class".

It was noted that questions remained about whether operational resources and training was keeping pace with demand at the border.