Better quarantine protection for Australian grain

Andrew Inglis

Graingrowers can expect better protection from plant diseases under a $120 million four-year quarantine plan announced in the last budget. The plan is based on recommendations of the recently released Nairn Report.

GRDC Chairman Andrew Inglis (above) was a member of the four-member Quarantine Review Committee which produced the report.

Grain industry representatives welcomed the report's recommendations. Outgoing Grains Council President Jeff Arney said the review provided an excellent basis for joint development of a comprehensive quarantine policy for the grains industry.

Additional emphasis on plant quarantine

National Farmers' Federation President Donald McGaughie said NFF was particularly pleased with the additional emphasis placed on plant quarantine.

"The adoption of NFF's recommendation supporting the establishment of an Australian Plant Health Council, along the lines of the Australian Animal Health Council, augurs well for the plant industries of this country," Mr McGaughie said.

The Government rejected a key recommendation of the Review Committee that AQIS be converted into a new statutory authority. Primary Industries Minister John Anderson said the Government would soon release full details of budget funding for other recommendations, including plant health quarantine and consultation with industry.

The Review Committee noted that in general Australia's capacity to respond to threats from exotic pests and diseases was far better established in the animal sector than in the plant sector.

A number of the Committee's recommendations aim to redress this imbalance. Their report suggested the establishment of an Australian Plant Health Council and the appointment of a Chief Plant Protection Officer to parallel animal quarantine arrangements.

The Review Committee recommended that potential environmental effects be included in risk assessments of proposed new plant introductions. Other recommendations are to streamline import procedures for biological control agents, to ensure that tolerances for contaminants of imported seed and bulk grain are consistent and equitable and to tighten inspection procedures for risks from second-hand and field-tested agricultural machinery.

It further recommended that Australian authorities coordinate the identification of quarantine threats in neighbouring countries and in countries that have trade and tourism contacts with Australia. Australia should contribute to control programs in such countries, the committee said.

And for the graingrower returning home or the overseas miller visiting to buy grain, the report offers personal relief — a recommendation that quarantine authorities abandon the procedure of spraying arriving aircraft — and their passengers. The report observes, "it appears that travellers from most areas of the world have a very poor perception of this".