In this section:

Review of key parts of the Biosecurity Act 1993

Submission date: 23 December 2009
Submitted to: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Biosecurity

It is the New Zealand Conservation Authority’s view that biosecurity is not an end in itself but a focus of policy and action to protect important values (health, environment, social and cultural), and that it therefore has a purpose beyond the purely economic.

The discussion document mentions two functions for the biosecurity system. The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) sees an inherent paradox within the first: “prevent harmful pests and diseases from coming into New Zealand and establishing themselves, with the assurance that international trade and tourism are maintained”. This implies that goods and people will always be allowed entry, regardless of the risk they pose to important values, and the NZCA would like to see it rephrased to remove that implication.

The NZCA advocates for biosecurity involve a precautionary approach to new potential pests as timely intervention can prevent future damage.  Species do not necessarily behave the same where they become naturalised as they do in their native habitat, and assumptions about the potential harm a new organism may cause can be faulty.  There are unfortunately many famous historical examples of this such as the possum, the rabbit, the ferret (all introduced for the expected economic benefits of a fur industry), and several plantation forest species.

The NZCA considers that the potential effects on reproduction and survival of climate change need to be factored into risk assessments, allowing for the lag time for their establishment as pests e.g. koi carp were introduced into Australia in the early 1900s but did not become a pest until 1960s; purple nut sedge present in New Zealand since 1883 has only recently became a pest (other examples are Rhamnus, mistweed and yellow flag); catfish in New Zealand spawn at lower temperatures than recorded overseas, and with greater frequency.

NZCA priorities for review

The following are the NZCA priorities for reviewing the Biosecurity Act 1993:

1. To give the Act a statutory purpose (including protection of indigenous biodiversity). The Act needs to give a clearer mandate so that biosecurity is not a “discretionary” activity for either central or local government. This omission has resulted in a lack of direction (see Pest Management).

2. Clarification of institutional arrangements, especially national and regional roles.
2.1 Regional and national roles are unclear, and can lead to biosecurity issues “falling through the cracks”:  Leadership for biosecurity should be clear and unambiguous.  The NZCA believes that Biosecurity NZ (BNZ) should have responsibility for all pests that can still be managed through containment, range reduction and or eventual eradication. That does not mean central government has to pay or even do all the work, but that BNZ would be accountable for co-ordination, choosing the best approach and ensuring that costs and actions are appropriately shared across the community. A major issue is that pest problems are increasing because of “non-decisions” about pests. Undaria is an example of the effect of vacillating at the incursion stage and then confusion during the containment and control phases.

2.2 ‘National Pests’
The NZCA considers that key issues are deciding when a organism moves from being regarded as an incursion to a pest – and when and how responsibility moves from BNZ to regional or local authorities or to the Department of Conservation? How does BNZ manage transition from incursion to pest management? The NZCA thinks that BNZ should also be involved in control and containment operations, not just eradication of new incursions. Clear criteria should be developed to determine whether a pest should be managed regionally via a Regional Pest Management Strategy administered by a Regional Council, or be managed (and funded) nationally by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

2.3 Decision-making framework
The current decision making framework is driven by cost/benefit analysis, and except for primary production values, it is often hard to assign an economic value, especially for intergenerational values and when costs and benefits are indirect.

The Biosecurity Act gives very little guidance. Everything is considered to be able to be weighed and the criterion is that “Chief Technical Officer is satisfied that…” This is quite different from the HSNO Act which incorporates minimum standards: even if there are great benefits in certain areas (for an introduction or for use of substance), if there are negative impacts then the action is deemed not permissible. The HSNO criteria include assessment of impacts on indigenous biodiversity, human health, valued species etc.

The NZCA thinks there should be a system for explicitly making a decision on every organism with potential pest characteristics (progressively of course), in the same way as hazardous substances registrations. The decision would be on basic management outcomes – e.g. eradication now, containment for ultimate eradication, maintenance as an economic/social resource in certain places but eradication from others (e.g. Douglas fir removal from alpine areas), etc.

The importance of scientific and technical expertise cannot be over-emphasized. A panel of experts in terrestrial, freshwater, marine, health, biodiversity, and primary production should be able to report directly to the Minister on strategic interventions.

Border Management

The NZCA supports greater management of risk being under taken offshore. However increasing reliance on profiling etc. can be risky, as this method varies in its accuracy.

Clearer legal obligations on importers is supported, including post-clearance.

The NZCA cautions against a reduction in standards to achieve faster clearance. It understands that internationally New Zealand is considered to have an efficient quarantine service that does not cause undue delays without due cause.

Timely intervention is required for new incursions, and the Act should provide for incursion contingency plans.  It would be cheaper to intervene early and in some cases necessarily than to intervene too late in the case of a devastating pest which thereby becomes established.

Incidentally, how are “compliant importers” to be defined?

Page 6 second sentence identifies the aim of the changes.  The NZCA considers the aim is too limited being confined to the “direct costs of achieving that level of protection.” It asks that the level of risk, potential consequences, and reasonably anticipated indirect costs (whether economic, social or environmental) be included.

Flexibility for Import Health Standards

Whilst the NZCA thinks the proposals seem reasonable, examples from the productive sector have shown that even with prescriptive requirements, standards are not necessarily met.  If physical inspections are to be reduced, it is hard to see how there can be any certainty that the outcomes are being met.

The NZCA has grave reservations about compiling an Import Health Standard based on affordability as it is concerned that this may result in lower standards of biosecurity.

Marine Biosecurity

The Authority considers improvements to marine biosecurity are a high priority and supports the proposals. It would like to see both site-led and pest led priority-setting processes.

Pest Management

The NZCA considers that BNZ should have a leadership role in pest management. Bullet 4 of 3.1 on page 8 identifies the problem accurately and the NZCA supports changes to the mandate of the Act. The NZCA considers regional councils should be accountable to BNZ if not discharging their regional role adequately and BNZ have powers to achieve compliance e.g. West Coast had no regional pest management strategy for a long time. But regional councils should still be able to take regional action as currently occurs if an assessment indicates it is justified.

The NZCA considers there needs to be nationally consistent standards of action e.g. standardisation of pest strategies at a regional level – some regions do this well and others do this poorly.

The NZCA perceives an overall need for better co-ordination of pest management (the Tb. strategy is a good example), including the need for baseline monitoring.

The NZCA would support an outcome-oriented approach to pest management, provided that this does not undermine eradication efforts where that is practicable or prevent a review of desired outcomes if circumstances change making more desirable outcomes attainable.

It is unclear what is intended by creating flexibility of pest management strategies. However we would support amendments that allowed partial reviews of pest management strategies.

Tools:

  • The NZCA would like to see criteria developed for site-led v pest led approaches e.g. offshore islands, including Stewart Rakiura, the Chathams, and those in Fiordland
  • The NZCA sees the need to address internal pathways and provide for internal borders to be established and implemented to prevent translocation within NZ of problem species (especially in, but not limited to, the marine environment). Internal borders were recognised as a priority at the first Biosecurity Conference but there has been no apparent progress, not even for places like the Chatham Islands where it should be relatively easy.
  • The NZCA would like a provision for control on shipping movements e.g. preventing barges allowed to be moored in Styela areas being moved to non-Styela areas.

The NZCA strongly supports mandatory procedures to prevent spread/transfer of potentially harmful organisms between ports & bioregions; north/south (including Stewart/Rakiura) islands.

The NZCA thinks monitoring and performance goals need to be introduced and applied systematically to ensure regional pest management plans are appropriate and being implemented.

The NZCA proposes that added to the ‘What should be different in the Future’ be the goal pest management will include all organisms that cause significant harm to the environment.

Biosecurity Preparedness

BNZ should have a “ready reaction” capacity to act when decisive and immediate action may be effective.

The provision for internal borders, as discussed above, would better contribute to preparedness.

The NZCA is concerned that the focus appears to be limited to the ‘major economic impacts’ of pests, and seeks to have this expanded to specifically reference environmental impacts which can have major indirect economic impacts.

Incidentally, what is meant by ‘major’?

Whilst it is a positive move for primary industries to be prepared for incursions, it would seem inequitable that the victims, not the exacerbators, should pay.

Non-Compliance

Amendments for stronger sanctions for non-compliance are supported.

Funding

There are issues of equity of funding/support for regional pest management strategies where neighbouring regions have differing rating bases and therefore differing abilities to support/deliver biosecurity activities/outcomes.

Ability to levy

The NZCA supports costs falling where they are generated but in some cases the internalisation of externalities is not always fair or practical e.g. when animals pests roam and a landowner has taken proactive efforts to control them, but invasion inwards and outwards continues. Pests also vary according to land use e.g. finches are a pest to grain growers and gold kiwifruit growers but are natural insect controllers in pip fruit orchards; Canada geese become a nuisance in response to changes in farming practices; Goats are run by some landowners for weed control, but may escape into protected forest and severely damage the ecosystem (with consequential downstream effects such as soil erosion and flooding); etc.

However the NZCA does see merit in having the ability to levy industries (e.g. the kiwifruit industry currently has a voluntary levy to cover control of wild kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty).

The NZCA would also like to see consideration given to disincentives - corporates who are responsible for bringing contaminated goods into the country should be prosecuted in the same way that individuals bringing undeclared fruit and other risky goods into the country are presently dealt with. Current practice seems to be that the goods are fumigated (including food items) and then business can continue as usual.

In terms of cost recovery, passenger clearances could be funded via a travel tax, imported goods via an import charge, vessel owners could be levied to cover marine biosecurity costs attributable to vessels as a vector.  There should be equity between industry sectors. Courier mail should be screened in the same way postal mail is.

These contributions may nevertheless be weighed against the public good, with cost recovery subsidised by central government, but in a consistent manner. Centralised funding for one-off incursions is likely to be more efficient, as by the time it is decided who is going to pay what, the pest may have become established with resulting escalated effects and costs.

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