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Biosecurity in Australia and New Zealand conference

In July 2006 I attended the ‘Biosecurity at the heart of the South Pacific, New Zealand' workshop and seminar. The trip was a chance to liaise with professionals from government and private industry and to compare New Zealand and Australia's approaches to emergency response, risk assessment and public education regarding pests, diseases and weeds.


In some areas both countries are on a par, but the differences I observed could be the basis for mutual improvement.


While Biosecurity New Zealand is still developing emergency response plans, Australia's already developed response strategies are recognised as being forward-thinking. However, this does not mean we cannot learn lessons from New Zealand.


In New Zealand, emergency response operations are being contracted out to private companies. This seems worth considering for Western Australia, due to potential savings and the specific skills that contractors may bring to certain emergencies. Another benefit is that research and policy staff could remain focused on their own work without getting side-tracked into incident management.


New Zealand's risk assessment is being researched via ‘Better Borders Biosecurity', a cooperative program involving Biosecurity New Zealand, the Department of Conservation, Environmental Risk Management Authority and Forest Biosecurity Research Council, together with several partners.


The program goes beyond agricultural products, spanning instead the wider agricultural environment and topics such as possible threats to indigenous flora. Broader assessment is advantageous because it can attract extra funding.


In public education and awareness, New Zealand's progress is impressive. An earlier (2003-04) campaign largely failed because it focused on exotic animals and plants, which most members of the public would never be able to recognise. Therefore a new campaign was launched concentrating on pests and diseases already present, which was much more successful.


Mainstream print and electronic media in New Zealand appear to take more interest in biosecurity than their Australian counterparts, by interviewing not just the Minister or Chief Executive but also people involved at grass roots level. Topics are covered in depth, helping to bolster government campaigns.


Consequently the general public has a good understanding of biosecurity and wants actively to protect the country, whereas in Australia the term ‘biosecurity' is less well understood - by not just the agricultural industry but also the wider community.


For stories considered too technical or scientific for mainstream media, Biosecurity New Zealand contracts a private public relations consultancy to produce two magazines ‘ one on plants and border protection, the other on animals. Published every six weeks and distributed internationally, these magazines are revered as the biosecurity ‘bible'.


Signage in New Zealand clarifies biosecurity requirements and the consequences of non-compliance, with prosecutions a reality. In Western Australia, a similar stance will be contained in the new Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Plan.


Raising awareness of biosecurity in Australia is desirable. A better educated community is more capable of surveillance which is an essential tool in detection, particularly in a state the size of Western Australia. A starting point might be a survey to determine current levels of knowledge and the issues which concern the community.



When: 2006 - July
Location: New Zealand