New Biosecurity Bill Introduced to Tasmanian Parliament

Thursday 9 May 2019 @ 3.13 p.m. | Legal Research

On 2 May 2019, the Biosecurity Bill 2019 (No 15 of 2019) (the “Bill”) was introduced to Tasmania’s House of Assembly (the “Assembly”) by the Hon Guy Barnett (Minister for Primary Industries and Water).  The new Bill proposes to consolidate a number of current biosecurity laws. The Bill is currently before the Assembly where it is awaiting further discussion.

The following Tasmanian legislation is proposed to be repealed by the new Bill:

  • Vermin Control Act 2000;
  • Weed Management Act 1999;
  • Plant Quarantine Act 1997;
  • Animal Health Act 1995;
  • Animal Farming (Registration) Act 1994;
  • Seeds Act 1985; and
  • Animal (Brands and Movement) Act 1984.

Background to the Bill

According to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum (the “EM”), the object of the Bill [in part] is to ensure that responsibility for biosecurity is shared between government, industry and the community, as well as ensuring that Tasmania is protected from threats posed by pests and disease to land and water based industries and environments, public health and public amenities, community activities and infrastructure.

The EM also indicates the Bill is expected to “provide a simpler and more efficient legal framework for the management of weeds and vermin, imports of plant and animal products, biosecurity emergencies, and monetary reimbursement for biosecurity related loss”.

Current Biosecurity Legislation

Biosecurity Tasmania reveals a major shortcoming of the present biosecurity legislation (in particular the Plant Quarantine Act 1997), is the absence of a system to regulate the operation of industry certification schemes in Tasmania. During early 2018 Tasmania was subject to Queensland Fruit Fly incursion where infested fruit was imported after it had been fumigated and certified as “fruit fly free”.

Biosecurity Tasmania also says that a strong legal framework is needed to govern the operation of private certification schemes in Tasmania. Under the Bill, industry based biosecurity certification auditing and accreditation activities will be subject to the regulatory oversight of Biosecurity Tasmania.

Introduction of Key Concepts

According to the EM, three new key concepts are proposed to be introduced:

  • Biosecurity matter – defined as animals, plants, diseases, contaminants and other biological material;
  • Biosecurity impact - is defined as harm to the economy, environment or community caused by biosecurity matter; and
  • Biosecurity risk – defined as the risk of a biosecurity impact occurring.

Also, a new statutory General Biosecurity Duty (“GBD”) is also proposed to be introduced and will impose a statutory duty on all Tasmanians and businesses to use reasonable standards of care when dealing with any biosecurity matter or carrier of biosecurity matter. Failure to comply with the GBD will be a criminal offence.

Clause 71 of the Bill (Failure to comply with general biosecurity duty) currently notes the penalty for contravention of “general biosecurity duty” as:

“A deliberate or reckless contravention of the general biosecurity duty that causes a significant biosecurity impact is an aggravated offence that carries the Act’s highest maximum penalties (10,000 penalty unit fine for a corporation, four years’ imprisonment for a natural person) … Provision is made for alternative verdicts, and for alternative proceedings ... ”

Comment and Reaction

In a Media Release, Minister Barnett commented:

“This Bill will help ensure Tasmania has modern biosecurity laws capable of furthering the Tasmanian Biosecurity Strategy, whilst minimising red tape for business and the general community. It is the outcome of more than four years of consultation, and this extensive work has resulted in broad support from industry groups.”

In regards to the benefit of overhauling the current legislation, Minister Barnett noted in his Speech:

“… [the Bill] overhauls and consolidates Tasmania’s biosecurity laws, and aligns Tasmania with the recent biosecurity reforms of New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and the Commonwealth … this Bill will keep the biosecurity functions that have protected our State for the last thirty years, but will streamline and modernise them so that they can continue protecting us for the next thirty years. At the same time, the Bill will give us new tools to manage the types of biosecurity threats, and the opportunities, that may arise in the future ...”

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