Budget’s $371m biosecurity boost will put ‘protective ring’ around agriculture, PM says

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Measures to be announced on Tuesday come three years after Coalition’s failed attempt to introduce biosecurity levy on industry

Australian cattle The budget biosecurity package is aimed at stopping threats such as African swine fever, khapra beetle and foot and mouth disease entering Australia. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty ImagesThe budget biosecurity package is aimed at stopping threats such as African swine fever, khapra beetle and foot and mouth disease entering Australia. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

, chief political correspondent@msmarto

A $371m biosecurity package that puts a “protective ring” around the agricultural sector is to be announced by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, three years after the Coalition’s failed attempt to introduce a biosecurity levy on industry.

Tuesday’s budget announcement, which includes $59m for swine flu prevention measures and $67m for a new response and surveillance program, follows calls by the National Farmers’ Federation for $417m in new spending over the next four years.

Morrison, who is in Rockhampton to attend Beef Week and campaign in the marginal seat of Capricornia, said the package would strengthen Australia’s ability to keep out exotic pests and diseases while improving the country’s ability to fight an outbreak.

The farmers’ federation, which backed the biosecurity imports levy when it was proposed in 2018, has warned the cost of a single outbreak of disease or pest could cost reach $50bn over a decade.

Pests, pathogens and pandemics: Australia's biosecurity needs an overhaul, CSIRO warns

In its pre-budget submission, the peak farming group said the government had been unable to come up with an alternative solution to fill a more than $100m per annum revenue gap left when the levy was dumped in 2020 amid an industry backlash.

In a move aimed at ending the long-running funding saga, Morrison said the government would be “stepping up” and using the budget package to stop threats such as African swine fever, khapra beetle and foot and mouth disease entering Australia.

“Protecting our borders is as much about protecting our livestock, crops and environment from diseases that have the potential to devastate them and the livelihoods they support, as it does the health of Australians during Covid-19 or protecting Australia’s national security,” Morrison said ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.

“This investment is about building a protective ring around Australia to safeguard our industry as well as the rural and regional communities that depend on it. There will never be zero risk but we are committed to reducing the risk where possible.

“We need to make sure agriculture continues to play a leading role in our national economic recovery.”

Other measures in the package include $34.6m for research and improved field tools to better understand how pests and diseases could enter the country, particularly in northern Australia, and $25.5m for modern technologies to improve the speed and accuracy of pest and disease identification at the border.

Another $20m has been allocated to trial pre-border biosecurity screening technology on inbound and outbound passengers.

New surveillance measures will also be funded, including technology to identify containers for intervention, 3D X-ray technology for the mail system, a new national surveillance information system on the national animal sector, and new screening technologies for people and goods at the border.

The federal agriculture minister, David Littleproud, said the “comprehensive” package responded to recommendations made by the independent inspector general of biosecurity, including efforts to manage the unique public health risk posed by passengers and crew on arriving international vessels.

“This package demonstrates our commitment to our agricultural sector and unique environment,” Littleproud said.

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