04 November 2020

CSIRO Biosecurity report

The latest CSIRO biosecurity report - Australia’sBiosecurity Future: Unlocking the next decade of resilience (2020–2030) - states

The world is currently experiencing the impact of a severe biosecurity event. Early in 2020, Australia, along with the rest of the world was hit with a virulent COVID-19 pandemic. The virus, believed to be transmitted from animals to humans, has dramatically affected individuals, communities, industry and economies. Thousands have died and thousands more have been ill. People have had to significantly change how they live and work; many businesses have disappeared, shut down or changed their operating models; and national and global economic growth has experienced a severe contraction. Full recovery is likely to take some years and until a vaccine is produced, it will be uneven and tied to the severity and frequency of new waves of infection. Australia has coped relatively well with this outbreak, but will we be sufficiently prepared to cope with the next incursions? 

Australian Governments have long acknowledged the need for a coordinated approach to biosecurity that builds on the natural protection that comes from being an island nation. However, despite significant efforts by governments, industry, not for profit organisations and various players in the community, this paper highlights the alarming fact that annual interceptions of materials that present a biosecurity risk to Australia have increased by almost 50% in the five years to 2017 to just over 37,000. If that is not sufficiently concerning, the paper highlights that the cumulative burden of yet to be eradicated or ineradicable species has also risen considerably in the last decade. 

Australia is a small but open nation which relies heavily on trade for its prosperity; it is not surprising that the number of biosecurity incursions has increased along with increases in our trade and travel. Given that these are likely to continue increasing, business as usual will ensure that the burden of biosecurity threats will only continue to escalate. 

Business as usual will ensure that the burden of biosecurity threats will only continue to escalate. 

Partnering with Animal Health Australia, Plant Health Australia and the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, CSIRO Futures and CSIRO Health and Biosecurity have produced a succinct and plausible case for the pressing need to transform, rather than just scale up, our biosecurity system. 

Given the cost of COVID-19 to Australia, this paper is extraordinarily timely. It merits significant attention and further investigation by all those who have an interest in seeing Australia retain and improve our biosecurity status and our way of life. It is an important reminder and wakeup call that we need to set ourselves up to be able to adequately respond to the biosecurity challenges that an increasingly interconnected world is going to present to us. It is an important reminder and wakeup call that we need to set ourselves up to be able to adequately respond to the biosecurity challenges that an increasingly interconnected world is going to present to us. 

About this report

In 2014, CSIRO published ‘Australia’s Biosecurity Future: Preparing for future biological challenges’, which identified major biosecurity trends facing Australia’s biosecurity landscape, with a focus on an agricultural, environmental and marine biosecurity sector audience. Focusing on the same primary audience, this report seeks to build on the 2014 publication by describing an ideal 2030 future state and identifying actions that can be taken to get there. The report also aims to encourage discussions across government and industry around the importance of cross-disciplinary management of biosecurity risks. The report was developed collaboratively through interviews and workshops with Commonwealth and state governments, research, industry and non-government organisations (NGOs), totalling 57 individuals representing 26 organisations (see Appendix A). 

Outbreaks across biosecurity sectors are continuing to rise in volume and complexity 

Biosecurity is critical to supporting the health of Australians, their environment and the competitiveness of key industries through biosecure trade networks. While Australia has one of the strongest biosecurity systems globally, outbreaks across human, agriculture, environment and marine health are continuing to rise in volume and complexity. This is due to a range of factors including growing levels of trade and travel, urbanisation, climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Between 2012 and 2017, the annual number of interceptions of biosecurity risk materials at Australian borders rose by almost 50%, to 37,014.  Figure 1 provides an indication of the number of new incursions in Australia since 2010 as well as the growing cumulative burden created by species which have established and are yet to be eradicated or have been deemed ineradicable.  

Scaling current approaches will not be enough to mitigate these growing risks 

While the relatively consistent level of new incursions in Figure 1 is due to Australia’s strong biosecurity system, the costly ongoing management of established species coupled with the increasing risk of new incursions is placing growing strain on the system which is already experiencing resourcing challenges. While investments are being made towards some of these challenges, continuing along the ‘business as usual’ (BAU) trajectory of slow and incremental change could expose Australia to significant triple bottom line risks over the next 10 years. 

Scaling the current system through additional funding allocation will not be enough. Modelling shows that even almost tripling investment in interventions out to 2025 will still result in increased residual biosecurity risk compared to 2014–2015 levels. This suggests that the system requires more transformational change in approaches and responsibilities to generate greater efficiencies and effectiveness. 

Now is the time for a system re-think 

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased community and public awareness of the importance of biosecurity and has enhanced familiarity with broad biosecurity concepts. This presents a unique opportunity to make transformational changes to Australia’s biosecurity system while engagement levels are comparatively high. 

Preparing Australia for biosecurity resilience in 2030 will require setting nationally coordinated goals across the One Health spectrum (human, agricultural, environmental and marine health sectors). 

To assist with these discussions, this report describes potential 2030 scenarios for a ‘business as usual’ and ‘transformational’ trajectory (Figure 2). 

Pursuing the transformational trajectory will require stronger collaboration across governments, industry, research and the community. 

This report provides 20 recommendations (Figure 3) which aim to highlight priority areas for system improvement. While suggested lead stakeholder groups are provided for each recommendation, all require deeper cross-disciplinary discussions and planning. 

Recommendations fall under three themes:

  • System connectivity – Digitising processes, enhancing partnerships and greater data sharing across supply chains and the One Health sectors to facilitate market access and ensure the system is capable of understanding and managing emerging risks and established pests and diseases. 

  • Shared responsibility – Harnessing the collective knowledge and capability of citizens, communities and industries to ensure national biosecurity efforts are optimised; and that all Australians are aware of, and value, their role in managing biosecurity risks. 

  • Innovation in science and technology (S&T) – Creating national innovation platforms for developing and commercialising next-generation technologies and services that target priority biosecurity risks and can be sold globally. 

Many of these transformational shifts will take 10 years to plan and successfully implement, meaning collaborative, national action needs to be taken today. 

Business as usual trajectory 

Australia’s biosecurity system continues to face significant resourcing challenges which are compounded by more frequent pest incursions alongside human, plant and animal disease outbreaks. This harms Australia’s reputation as a biosecure trading partner and safe travel destination, which negatively impacts established industries, the environment and the economy. Australia is largely reactionary; with stakeholders sharing intelligence and investing in the system during times of crisis but less so during more stable periods. 

Transformational trajectory 

Australia is considered the most biosecure trade partner globally. This has been enabled by enhanced data sharing networks, national coordination of biosecurity activities, and investments in new technology applications; all of which have eased resourcing pressures and resulted in a system that more efficiently identifies and manages emerging risks. Engaged communities contribute to surveillance activities, reducing the risks of new incursions or spreading of existing established pests and diseases. Businesses play a greater role in the provision of biosecurity services, enabled by co-developed arrangements with government that ensure criteria around national interests are met. 

Enabling themes and recommendations for pursuing the transformational trajectory 

System connectivity 

Digitised processes and data sharing

1. Develop procedures and systems for timely biosecurity information exchange 

2. Modernise export compliance processes 

3. Optimise export protocols through regular assessment of supply chain risk reduction activities 

Domestic and international partnerships

4. Develop stronger partnerships within the national system to bolster shared responsibility 

5. Strengthen relationships with international counterparts and partners 

6. Improve pre-border clearance of imports

Shared responsibility 

Community and public engagement

7. Develop and promote a single source of biosecurity information to the public 

8. Create robust and verifiable citizen science programs to help engage and empower the public 

9. Develop biosecurity education and communication programs to build public and community awareness

Indigenous engagement

10. Make biosecurity engagement with Indigenous communities a more systemic process of the system. 

11. Empower Indigenous involvement in biosecurity through co-development of fit-for-purpose technology solutions and creation of economic opportunities 

12. Increase Indigenous representation at senior decision-making levels

Industry engagement

13. Identify the non-negotiable government conditions and industry incentives associated with privatisation of biosecurity services and activities 

14. Invest in social science research to better understand non-compliance behaviours 

15. Investigate improvements to incentivise accurate and timely biosecurity detection reporting

Innovation in S&T 

Supporting innovation 

  • 16. Set national biosecurity innovation priorities 

  • 17. Drive development, investment, commercialisation and manufacture of innovative technologies for biosecurity 

  • 18. Better integrate social, cultural and ethical considerations into the development, policy and regulation setting of new technologies

Science and technology capability 

19. Invest in pathways for the career development and training of biosecurity-relevant specialists and researchers 

20. Bolster Australia’s vaccine development capability and pipeline