Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021 Introduced to CTH Parliament
On 18 February 2021 the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021 (Cth) (the “Bill”) was introduced to the House of Representatives by Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud MP.
The Bill proposes to amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth) (the “Act”). According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the effect of the proposed amendments would be
“… increasing the maximum penalties that a court could impose for non-compliance with requirements under the Act. It increases the penalties for specified existing civil penalty provisions to provide a proportionate regulatory response to the conduct covered by those provisions and increases the penalties for specified criminal offences to ensure appropriate punishment for those who jeopardise Australia’s biosecurity status by breaking the law”.
Brief Overview of the Biosecurity Act 2015
According to the Australian Government’s, the Act has been designed to “manage biosecurity threats to plant, animal and human health in Australia and its external territories”.
The Act is flexible and responsive to changes in technology and biosecurity challenges and also allows the Director of Biosecurity to establish biosecurity zones within Australia to monitor, control and respond to pests and diseases. It also emphasises shared responsibility, with many biosecurity management functions being administered by the Australian Government, but State and Territory governments also having responsibility.
Details of the Bill
According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the proposed amendments are deemed necessary due to recent regional and global threats. The current penalty regime needs reinforcement to provide an “effective deterrent against non-compliance with the Act and to ensure that criminal penalties allow for appropriate and proportionate punishment for individuals and bodies corporate jeopardising Australia’s biosecurity status with their offending conduct”.
The expected growth in trade and travel as part of the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to accentuate the threats, making it imperative to send a strong message that breaking Australia’s biosecurity laws is not worth the potential commercial gain.
Proposed Amendments under the Bill
The proposed amendments relate to key provisions of the Act that, if not complied with, may significantly undermine the integrity of the biosecurity regulatory framework, with potentially devastating consequences for Australia’s agricultural industries, jobs, plant, animal and environmental health, and the confidence of trading partners.
The Bill seeks to amend the Act by amending:
- sections 124 to 130 – these provisions provide for civil penalty provisions where a person contravenes certain requirements or engages in certain conduct in relation to goods that are subject to biosecurity control;
- sections 139 to 141 – these provisions provide for fault-based offences and civil penalty provisions where a person contravenes certain requirements or engages in certain conduct in relation to goods that are subject to biosecurity control;
- sections 185 and 186 – section 185 currently provides for the following offences and civil penalty provision for bringing or importing prohibited or suspended goods into Australian territory and section 186 provides for the following offences for contravening conditions applying to conditionally non-prohibited goods brought or imported into Australian territory;
- section 187 – this section currently provides for offences and civil penalty provisions for contravening conditions of a permit issued under section 179 in relation to goods that are determined to be conditionally non-prohibited goods; and
- sections 428 and 429 – these provide for fault-based offences and civil penalty provisions for a biosecurity industry participant contravening a direction given by a biosecurity officer.
In his speech to Parliament, the Minister commented:
In the Minister's media release he said:
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