Government announces overhaul of biosecurity laws

The Government has announced plans for a major overhaul of our biosecurity rules, saying the current legislation cannot cope with an increasing number of threats at the border.

It follows sharp criticism of the delays and confusion in dealing with the fallout from mycoplasma bovis, along with issues in the fight against the Queensland fruit fly and myrtle rust. 

Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor told Newshub the laws to protect our country from such a plethora of pests haven't evolved as threats have increased.  

"In terms of biosecurity, it's the single biggest threat to our economy, a consistent one. And the law used to oversee that threat is 26 years old."

The most urgent suggested overhauls aim to resolve funding pressures, amid massive increases in the volume of people and goods coming here.

An improvement to the decision making process and changes to the system of compensation are also priorities.

The director-general of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) recently apologised for his ministry's failures in managing mycoplasma bovis and farmer Duncan Barr says the changes are well overdue.

"It's just unfortunate it's taken the debacle of the M bovis response to instigate this overhaul."

Compensation has been a big problem during the mycoplasma bovis response. There have been long delays and the current Biosecurity Act only pays for "verifiable loss". 

So, for example, you'd get compensated for slaughtered mycoplasma bovis animals but getting payouts for projected losses involving grazing or lost milk production has been much harder. 

"Yes, I do accept it has been frustrating. The law hasn't allowed payment for some people. That's why we're going to change it," O'Connor added.

"For some farms, it's too late. They've been forced to sell and they're out of it. Now is a chance to correct that wrong," Barr said in response to the changes.

Biosecurity rules aside, farmers are being told to alter the way they manage their stock.

There are also big changes to what's known as the "NAIT system", which tracks the movement of stock around the country. Farmers could face greater penalties for non-compliance - a $10,000 fine will increase to $100,000. 

"So now 10 times the penalty if you blatantly disregard the NAIT laws," O'Connor said.

But Barr says the Government must take more responsibility - and questions why eradication was announced when the rules have never been fit for purpose. 

"We're getting blamed for what is quite clearly Government and MPI's inability to do their job.

"Farmers and farming families, they are the collateral damage in this and that needs to be corrected." 

The minster accepts that while there's been a flood of complaints, major change is coming and wants the most urgent amendments in place in 2020.