Budget boost for biosecurity tech

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The federal government plans to invest $371 million in a biosecurity package in this year’s budget, with much of the money going to new biotechnology and research programs.

But the package is $29 million less than what the peak farmers’ group has said is needed to update Australia’s biosecurity.

While several programs in the package include updates to technology systems, nearly a third of the money will go to dedicated biosecurity technology and research.

The biggest spend in the package is $67.4 million to “support Australia’s biosecurity preparedness and response capabilities”, which includes building and maintaining a national surveillance information system on the national animal sector and equipment for molecular diagnostics testing.

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The government has announced a $371 million biosecurity package will be in this year’s budget.

More than $30 million of the funding will be going towards improving the management of biosecurity risks associated with incoming international mail through automating workflow, modernising risk assessment capability and using 3D x-ray technology.

A further $19.5 million will go towards a trial of pre-border biosecurity screening technology for inbound and outbound passengers, and $25.5 million for border technologies to improve the speed and accuracy of pest and disease identification.

Another $34.6 million has been set aside for research and improved field tools to better understand how pests and diseases could enter the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the package on Tuesday, saying the package would help build a “protective ring” around Australia.

Australia’s biosecurity system has been valued at $314 billion, by researchers at the University of Melbourne, which they say reflects a 30:1 return on investment so far.

Peak body the National Farmers Federation (NFF) warned in its Pre-budget submission in January that Australia’s biosecurity systems are not keeping pace with the growing biosecurity risk of more people, vessels and cargo entering Australia.

It called for $400 million in government support over four years to ensure Australia’s biosecurity systems are “up to the job” of maintaining and expanding export markets while engendering trust domestically.

“This is a good start,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said in response to the government package.

“Applying cutting edge science and technology is crucial to ensuring our biosecurity system is future-ready.”

The farmers group backed a biosecurity imports levy when it was proposed in 2018 as a way of funding Australian biosecurity long term. The levy was abandoned by the government last year but the NFF said it will continue to push for funding reform.

The NFF has called for more than $3.5 billion in total government funding across the next four years in the upcoming budget to support the Australian agriculture sector.

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