Legislative Council: Tuesday, November 15, 2022


Livestock (Emergency Animal Disease) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 3 November 2022.)

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (17:14): I rise to indicate that I will be the lead speaker for the opposition on the Livestock (Emergency Animal Disease) Amendment Bill. I would like to note up-front that the opposition will be supporting this bill. Indeed, the opposition is supportive of all reasonable measures that strengthen South Australia's preparedness activities, surveillance work and efforts to plan, prepare, mitigate and respond to an emergency animal disease incursion.

I have been very vocal on how important it is that we, as a state, remain alert and vigilant as we face an increasing prevalence of biosecurity threats and incursions, from fruit fly outbreaks in the Riverland, varroa mite outbreaks in the Eastern States, to the prevalence of the contagious foot-and-mouth and lumpy skin diseases in Indonesia. These biological threats have the potential to devastate our agricultural sector.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry projects that a lumpy skin disease outbreak could affect approximately $7.39 billion worth of exports across 23 countries. In her second reading of the bill the minister highlighted the potential devastation that would be caused by a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, noting an estimated cost to the industry of $80 billion to $100 billion over 10 years. South Australia's exports of livestock products, which were worth $954 million in 2020-21, would be threatened and $1.3 billion worth of interstate trade impacted. Domestic prices for meat and meat-related products would also likely be significantly impacted.

But the potential cost and impact extends much further. An uncontrolled outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Australia would see mass slaughtering of our cloven-hoofed animals—animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, deer and pigs—and would bring our meat export market to an immediate closure. The impact to our agricultural sector would flow through to the cost of food production, placing unwelcome pressure on an already rising cost of living. It would have an enduring impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and entire communities. It would devastate tourism, disrupt education and limit research. Regional communities would be crippled.

It is why I called out the cuts to PIRSA in this year's state budget, with the Malinauskas Labor government taking an axe to the department and, in an inexcusable omission, failing to include foot-and-mouth disease in the biosecurity list of priorities. It is why I called for increased biosecurity measures at Adelaide Airport, including boosting staff numbers, to allow for the luggage of every traveller from Indonesia to be individually inspected.

It is why I backed the calls of farmers and local sporting shooter groups for a feral animal cull to support a national cull of feral animals, and it is why I have continued to promote the need for our state and federal governments to ensure PIRSA, the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Australian Border Force are adequately resourced to prevent, mitigate and respond to any incursions.

In this very chamber I have repeatedly asked questions of the minister about resourcing for PIRSA, particularly resourcing for preparedness activities and resourcing for surveillance work. The answers have been beyond poor, with the minister not even attempting to answer the substance of my question.

Last sitting week, on 2 November, I asked:

1. Is the minister confident that her department is sufficiently resourced to participate in preparedness activities relating to foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease?

2. Is the minister confident that her department is sufficiently resourced to participate in surveillance activities relating to foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease?

Mr President, I ask that you indulge me here and listen to the response she provided to this chamber—the response she provided to her constituents, the residents of South Australia:

I thank the honourable member for her question. She has mentioned two diseases, which of course have had increased risk profiles in recent months and indeed over the last couple of years. Many, many risks have been increasing for various emergency animal diseases. It's imperative that as a nation and as a state we have strong and resilient biosecurity systems to effectively prevent, prepare and respond to these threats. EAD prevention and early detection are core priorities for PIRSA, in addition to being prepared to respond to these diseases should they be detected in Australia.

PIRSA Biosecurity, animal health division, delivers disease surveillance programs to enhance SA's ability to detect and respond to disease threats of significant community, economic and public health importance. PIRSA is continuing to work closely with commonwealth, state and territory departments, Animal Health Australia, state and national peak industry bodies to continually improve Australia's biosecurity systems to address evolving threats.

We are very happy with the continual engagement with industry as well as the other jurisdictions as we continue to progress our preparedness activities, which of course will be ongoing, because different threats and threat levels change over time. That includes because of different climatic events or trends as well as dynamic markets and geopolitical issues that result in food security issues, amongst others, as well as changes in the amount of international travel, international trade and so on.

As an ongoing program, there has been increased focus, of course, on emergency animal diseases, including the two specific ones that the honourable member has mentioned. We will continue with that work.

Not only does the minister not answer the substance of the question, she does not provide a response that is even remotely near the fundamental premise of the question; that is, is she confident about resourcing? The utter failure to acknowledge or respond to the question can only leave us with one conclusion: the answer is a resounding no. Let's move on to another question I asked the minister last sitting week:

1. Has PIRSA raised any concerns with the minister regarding the resources available to the department to participate in preparedness activities or surveillance activities relating to foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease?

2. Has PIRSA raised any concerns with the minister regarding the available workforce and allocated FTEs to help meet research needs to participate in preparedness activities or surveillance activities relating to foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease?

Mr President, they are two reasonably straightforward questions, would you not agree? Has PIRSA raised any concerns? Apparently not. Please indulge me again as I read the minister's response:

The department and I have regular meetings. Of course, a number of issues come up frequently within that. That covers a wide range of discussions in terms of what is the appropriate response and preparedness activities. As I mentioned in an earlier question, we have been working closely with industry as well as, for example, regional vets and so on in terms of the preparedness activities, and I am very happy with the way that those preparations have been continuing.

Did the response even come within the ballpark of answering my question: has PIRSA raised any concerns? No, it did not. As you would expect, I asked a supplementary question:

…have PIRSA raised specific concerns with the minister regarding the resources available to the department to participate in preparedness and surveillance activities relating to foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin…

Mr President, I think you might find some amusement in the minister's response:

I just answered that question. It's the same question.

Yes, it is the same question, because no, you did not answer the original question. The minister is incapable of answering a question. She repeatedly demonstrates her contempt for South Australians by failing to go anywhere close to providing a response to the question she is asked. It is disgraceful. Why was the minister so evasive in answering my questions about preparedness activities and surveillance activities last sitting week? Perhaps it is because a briefing to the minister from her department dated 18 July 2022 states that:

PIRSA has less resources than the commonwealth and larger states and territories. This impacts our ability to participate in preparedness activities to the same level and will affect our ability to effectively mount a response.

It also states that the department has the added 'difficulty of securing a workforce at the present moment' and further states that participation in surveillance activities 'is limited by not having the PIRSA staff resource to organise, collect and report the results, which can be logistically time consuming'.

It is little wonder the minister did not answer the questions. How can she possibly assure livestock producers in South Australia that we are ready and prepared to manage any possible outbreak of lumpy skin disease or foot-and-mouth disease in this state when her own department is briefing her on their concerns about their ability to participate in preparedness activities, our ability to effectively mount a response and the difficulty in securing a workforce?

I welcome the introduction of this bill. I welcome the minister taking definitive steps to strengthen measures to ensure speed of implementation and enable any response to be agile in the event of an emergency animal disease incursion. These measures will provide clarity in the event of an emergency animal disease incursion that, with the exception of the Emergency Management Act 2004, the Livestock Act 1997 will prevail over other acts.

Other key measures will enable urgent notices to be published immediately, ensuring that industry, veterinarians and PIRSA can act swiftly when required. It will provide inspectors with the ability to take a required action where a person fails to comply with a notice or order in a specified or reasonable time frame. It will provide the ability to prescribe the kind of property for which an inspector may issue an order, take action or cause action to be taken for the destruction, demolition or disposal of the property, as well as adding the powers to undertake surveillance and proof of freedom testing when an increased risk of exotic disease has been declared, to allow for monitoring disease incursions or for market access purposes.

It is equally important that preparedness activities are sufficiently resourced and undertaken to ensure South Australia is well placed to respond to an emergency animal disease incursion. I expect this bill to be the beginning of those efforts and look forward to further announcements and additional resources for efforts to plan, prepare, mitigate and respond to foot-and-mouth disease, lumpy skin disease or any other biosecurity threat, because lives and livelihoods depend on it.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:24): I rise on behalf of the Greens in support of this bill. We recognise that biosecurity is vital to protect our precious environment and our native species. The Greens believe the protection and conservation of biodiversity are essential for the wellbeing of all life, and it is crucial to protect biodiversity from threats such as diseases and pests.

Australia's natural biosecurity advantage has helped to protect our communities from many diseases and pests that can cause illness or damage our environment and our agriculture. Although current animal disease threats are mostly confined to livestock, there is the potential for diseases to spread to native species and to threaten biodiversity, and it is important that we protect our local food security as well as our local species.

In South Australia, we have an enormous range of unique ecosystems and habitats that are vulnerable to invasive species and to pests. These can cause untold damage to human health, to agriculture and to our environment. There is also a consideration here for animal welfare. The spread of infectious diseases amongst livestock can cause untold suffering of animals. We hope this bill enables swift action to be taken to ease the suffering of animals by reducing the administrative burden that is placed in dealing with these responses and dealing quickly with biosecurity threats before they become widespread. I therefore confirm the Greens will be supporting this bill.

The Hon. S.L. GAME (17:26): I rise in support of this bill. Prevention and suppression are imperative when it comes to controlling livestock diseases and viruses, as is control and eradication. There is a strong current of change to the north of Australia. High movement of people and animals, along with small-hold farming practices, have resulted in high incident rates of five particular diseases affecting livestock right on our doorstep in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever and African horse sickness are all one plane flight or one cargo boat away from our shores. Transitory diseases such as avian influenza, which travels on migratory birds, or lumpy skin disease, spread through biting insects which travel on the wind, have created unregulated pathways for disease to spread between animals. There have been eight outbreaks of avian influenza viruses in Australia since the 1970s in our commercial poultry operations, the most recent in Victoria only two years ago. It infected a free-range chicken flock due to wild birds sharing their feed and range. This is a real threat each and every year as migratory birds visit our farms to feed and rest.

In May this year, I was shocked to see the delayed implementation of control and suppression measures against foot-and-mouth disease to protect our cloven-hoofed herds. The disease is uncontrolled in hotspot areas of Indonesia and incursion of the virus would have severe and immediate consequences for Australia's agricultural industry and trade.

Had an active case of the virus arrived on our shores the impact would have been immediate. Stock movements would have halted and the price on hoof and on hook would have plummeted. Our economy would have been slugged. Food price rises for households would have skyrocketed at a time when inflation is already unsupportable. The response was not fast enough. We were one of the last locations in the country to receive biohazard mats at Adelaide Airport despite direct flights from affected regions. We need to do better for our farmers, and it is my understanding that industry has led the push for these prevention, suppression, control and eradication measures.

One Nation understands that farmers are fundamental to our society. It is impossible to go a single day without accessing the food and fibre they provide. The cost of not implementing these measures is crushing. The human cost and the mental anguish an outbreak of a serious disease such as foot-and-mouth would cause is too much to think of. A research paper looking into the UK experience of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 states:

The disease epidemic was a human tragedy, not just an animal one. Respondents' reports showed that life after the foot and mouth disease epidemic was accompanied by distress, feelings of bereavement, fear of a new disaster, loss of trust in authority and systems of control, and the undermining of the value of local knowledge. Distress was experienced across diverse groups well beyond the farming community.

There is an important balance between affirmative action and reasonable measure. I think this bill delivers a helpful balance of power when the stakes are high and the impacts of inaction or half measures are significant, and I have been assured there are enough safeguards in place to protect the farmers and associated businesses.

My meetings with the department have demonstrated to me that there are reasonable measures and safeguards to ensure any action by agencies will be proportionate to the threat. There are significant powers, but the procedures and checkpoints are as rigorous as one could expect for a biosecurity emergency. I believe they will remain accountable during the process, and we put our trust in the Chief Veterinary Officer to make the right decision each time our biosecurity is threatened.

The Chief Veterinary Officer must satisfy the minister of the day that a declaration of increased risk of exotic disease is necessary and urgent and poses a substantial risk of harm to animals and industry, as well as to the safety of any person or the economy. Equally, we must rely on cooperation from our farming families to ensure we can keep putting food on the table. It is in everyone's interest that these biosecurity laws are strict, swift and act in the best interest of Australian producers.

If veterinarian checks need to be made, it is in everyone's interest to comply. If fences need to be erected temporarily on a property to contain a possible herd outbreak, then these must be built with the support of agency officers. If livestock trucks need urgent disinfecting, local vehicle washers should be able to be seconded for such measures and compensated accordingly.

One Nation wants our agricultural industry to thrive. We want them to get on with the business of growing our food and fibre. If the threat of foot-and-mouth earlier this year showed me anything, it is that these changes to the Livestock Act are absolutely necessary. The response at that time was slow, lugged in bureaucracy and, from an outsider's perspective, looked far from effective.

These are sensible measures. These are measures to streamline PIRSA response time and reduce the red tape needed to take swift, proportionate action. One Nation stands to protect our farming communities and I support this bill because it is needed.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (17:31): I thank the Hon. Ms Centofanti, the Hon. Mr Simms and the Hon. Ms Game for their indications of support for the bill, and I also thank the Hon. Mr Simms and the Hon. Ms Game for their constructive and thoughtful contributions on the matter. I do feel that I must respond to some of the commentary made by the Hon. Ms Centofanti to place on the record the full context of the quotes she gave.

Firstly, she referred to a paragraph in a briefing that says that PIRSA has less resources than the commonwealth and larger states and territories. I would have thought it was fairly obvious that a small state such as South Australia and its department would have less resources than the commonwealth and indeed the larger states and territories.

Secondly, she referred to the issue of workforce, but what she did not emphasise is that the brief refers to 'similar to other states and territories, recently vacated government roles are not able to be filled with suitable candidates', indicating that there is a widespread issue around workforce both in the sorts of roles we are looking to fill but more generally. As someone who spends a lot of time in regional areas, I am very aware of the labour shortages and skilled labour shortages that are so prevalent. I think it is worth having that within a suitable context.

However, I place on the record again my thanks for the contributions that were thoughtful and constructive, in particular the acknowledgement from the Hon. Ms Game that streamlining the processes so that we can respond in a way that is agile and swift is incredibly important. I look forward to, I hope, the swift passage of this bill today.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

In committee.

Clause 1.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I would just like to draw the chamber's attention to one aspect. It has been brought to my attention that there is a slight drafting error in schedule 1. I will not be moving an amendment today, as amendments are not being drafted nor distributed to members, but I just want to flag it as something I will be seeking to address between the houses, if this bill passes this upper house this afternoon. That is in regard to schedule 1, paragraph (k) and proposed subparagraph (vii), which currently reads:

requiring the destruction, disposal, eradication or decontamination of feral animals…

The paragraph subsequently fails to include the word 'decontamination' in the second mention in that paragraph. I am sorry if that is not very clear. It is not necessarily essential to be specific, as I have attempted to be here, but I just mention that that is an amendment that I would seek to have moved between the houses.

Clause passed.

Clause 2 passed.

Clause 3.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Can the minister please indicate to the chamber why a notice cannot be gazetted in one working day?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I am advised that the process for gazettal generally takes more than that. The scheduled gazettes are weekly. If, for example, it is a weekend or for another reason, it could not happen quickly. I think it is also relevant to point out that not only would going up on a website be much swifter but also in a potential emergency animal outbreak we want all of our staff working on the most urgent tasks. Going through the Gazette process would perhaps be important but not the most urgent, so if it can go straight up onto a website and then the advice is there as soon as possible, that seems the more appropriate way to go.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Can the minister indicate to the chamber in regard to the website where the dedicated website may be made public for clarity for industry so that producers and other industry stakeholders will know where to look?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: The expectation is that it would be on the PIRSA website. I am advised that there is a news section there, which is the most likely. We have not, of course, put the name of the website in the bill, as websites tend to change over time. We also have industry communications lists, and they would be advised through that where to find it—the name of the website, etc.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I think the minister has probably answered my next question. Industry have indicated a desire to ensure that they are notified, obviously, very swiftly under these circumstances. Can the minister elaborate or place on the record the process and procedures through which those key stakeholders will be notified?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I think I have answered the question, but I am happy to elaborate a little bit. Communication and swift communication would, of course, be an absolute priority. There are the normal mechanisms: there is the stakeholder mailing lists and so on for emails, and those sorts of mechanisms would be employed.

Clause passed.

Clause 4.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Can the minister please advise the chamber what triggers would activate a declaration of increased risk of exotic disease, and who would be advising the minister in declaring that increased risk of exotic disease?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I am advised that both the Australian chief veterinarian and the South Australian chief vet would provide that type of advice. It would depend on the circumstances as to whether that would be one or both. Of course, I would rely on that expert advice.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Will this enable the minister to declare an increased risk in South Australia before the rest of the nation has agreed to an increased risk or emergency under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: The answer to the question is yes, and that is considered advisable and prudent so that we can potentially protect our own markets or our own livestock by anticipating any types of mechanisms or actions that may be required without having to wait for, for example, a national declaration.

Clause passed.

Clauses 5 to 7 passed.

Clause 8.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: This is in regard to section 43(2)(b): 'the property is of a kind prescribed by the regulations'. My question to the minister is: are the regulations already in effect?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: No, those regulations need to be developed if this amendment bill is passed.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I thank the minister for that answer. My next question would be: what kinds of property would be expected to be included in those regulations?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: The answer is that that would apply to the type of property that we currently have the ability to destroy or otherwise affect where currently there is the need for consent or a warrant. This change enables action to be taken without that consent or warrant when the situations are appropriate.

In the regulations, we would expect, for example, to put perhaps a dollar value limit on the amount that could be destroyed. As an example, I would imagine in most cases it would not be appropriate to destroy a large aircraft, which would be worth many tens of thousands of dollars or more. It would have to be a very extreme circumstance for that to be the case, so it might be appropriate to place a dollar value that would prevent that kind of an action. In terms of the property, it is envisaged to be the same sort of property that we currently have the ability to destroy, but only with consent or a warrant.

Clause passed.

Clause 9.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I do believe this is my last question. In relation to protection from liability, I notice that under this clause it states that protection from liability is in relation to a notifiable disease, a notifiable contaminant or an exotic disease. Can the minister explain what the purpose is of including 'notifiable disease' and 'notifiable contaminant' in this clause, rather than just limiting it to 'exotic disease'?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: The entire act refers to notifiable diseases and notifiable contaminants, etc., so this clause is to be consistent with the rest of the act.

Clause passed.

Remaining clauses (10 to 15) and title passed.

Bill reported without amendment.

Third Reading

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (17:46): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.

At 17:47 the council adjourned until Wednesday 16 November 2022 at 14:15.