Legislative Council: Tuesday, September 26, 2023



The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (14:33): I seek leave to make a brief explanation prior to addressing a question to the Minister for Primary Industries on biosecurity.

Leave granted.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: The National Management Group, which manages the spread of varroa mite across Australia, made the unanimous decision on Tuesday 19 September to transition its approach to addressing the biosecurity issue confronting beekeepers and the pollination industry. The group said noncompliance by some beekeepers and a recent spike in new detections and over a wider area made eradication a non-viable option, and I note there have been over 260 identified outbreaks in the Eastern States since the parasite was first detected 14 months ago.

Tony Mahar from the National Farmers Federation says he's not as confident in managing varroa mite, with an estimation that $14 billion could be lost to the deadly bee parasite. My questions to the minister are:

1. Has the minister requested or received a briefing from the National Management Group?

2. What is her government doing to prepare apiarists in the industry for the new management strategy of varroa mite?

3. What is the estimated potential economic cost to apiarists and the industry of varroa mite here in South Australia?

4. Given that the minister met, I believe, with the Cross Border Commissioner—or so she told us last sitting week, that she was meeting with the Cross Border Commissioner last week—what will be the Commissioner's role in this important issue?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (14:34): I thank the honourable member for her question. It is certainly a question of great importance as so much of our industry relies on pollination, and therefore the intrusion of varroa mite into Australia has been particularly disappointing.

The bee pest varroa mite (officially, Varroa destructor) was detected in hives at the Port of Newcastle in New South Wales on 22 June last year as a result of routine surveillance on sentinel hives. There have now been more than 275 infested premises in New South Wales, and that includes outbreak areas around Newcastle and the Sydney Basin; a new cluster of detections in the Kempsey region traced forward to detections in Euston, Nericon, Euroley, Boggabri and Somerton; and a new infestation in beehives at Barcoongere in the Coffs Harbour region. It is important to mention that varroa mite has not been detected in any other state or territory at this time.

The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries is leading a national emergency eradication response, under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed, that involves containment, tracing, surveillance, education and compliance. Up until now, that response has allowed for delimitation of the varroa incursion to eradication emergency zones (EEZs) and surveillance emergency zones (SEZs), with the remainder of New South Wales classified as free from varroa as a general emergency zone (GEZ).

In response to a number of eradication response plan trigger points being met, the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) recommended to the National Management Group that it was no longer practically feasible to achieve eradication. The National Management Group supported and agreed to this recommendation and, on 19 September this year, the response moved to a transition to management phase.

The South Australian apiary industry pollinates agricultural and horticultural crops, valued at an estimated $1.7 billion dollars, and produces in excess of $11 million worth of honey bee products annually. The South Australian government of course continues to take the New South Wales varroa outbreaks very seriously. PIRSA is working closely with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries; the other neighbouring state departments—obviously, specifically Queensland and Victoria; the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; pollination-dependent industries, such as almonds; and the South Australian apiary industry to ensure an appropriate response.

Movement restrictions for bee colonies and bee commodities entering South Australia have been in place since June 2022, and they have been updated over time as the situation changes. Initially, movement restrictions restricted any movement from all of New South Wales and permitted movement from Victoria and Queensland only with permit approval from the Chief Inspector of Stock.

On 19 July 2023, a new movement restriction notice was published in the South AustralianGovernment Gazette. The notice permitted movement from the New South Wales general emergency zone, based on risk assessment and evidence that the New South Wales GEZ had a varroa-free status consistent with decisions made by Queensland and Victoria, and updated the required conditions for permit approval from the Chief Inspector of Stock.

Before a beekeeper can enter South Australia with their goods, they are required to seek permission from the Chief Inspector of Stock. Before and after approval is granted, they are required to adhere to strict movement conditions imposed by the chief inspector. PIRSA reviews the applications with an initial risk assessment and, where necessary, requests additional information before making a recommendation to the chief inspector. The chief inspector then reviews the application in conjunction with the risk assessment and makes a decision of whether to permit movement and, if so, subject to what conditions.

Beekeepers granted permission of entry into South Australia must comply with the strict entry conditions for the transport into and within the state, managing colonies, sampling and record keeping and submitting notifiable occurrences, such as a detection of a notifiable condition. These conditions remain in place at present but of course may need to be reviewed or updated as the situation further develops.

Over the last two weeks of July and in the weeks since, almond pollination took place in South Australia in the Sunraysia region, resulting in a small number of movement applications into South Australia being approved and a small number of movements between South Australia and Lindsay Point requiring permit approval to return to South Australia.

Following the Kempsey cluster outbreak in New South Wales, a number of South Australian movement permits were withdrawn on 25 August to enable a risk assessment of the impact of the evolving Kempsey situation on movement approvals into South Australia to occur.

Following the review, the chief inspector was satisfied to reissue the permits which had been withdrawn. Whilst a small number of new permit applications continue to be received and processed, PIRSA has further increased vigilance of the application and assessment process in light of the recently expanding detections in New South Wales.

PIRSA has taken a responsible approach to the emerging situation in New South Wales. PIRSA has been conducting surveillance and compliance activities in the Riverland region during almond pollination, with a priority focus on the interstate beekeepers. Activities have included border inspections of transiting bee colonies and equipment; almond site inspections and surveillance, including sampling of 10 per cent of hives; and checks that apiarists are compliant with movement permit conditions.

Surveillance will continue in coming weeks and move focus to the South Australian apiarists returning from Lindsay Point in Victoria. PIRSA is continuing to monitor the evolving detections in New South Wales from the Kempsey cluster, is actively kept informed by New South Wales DPI of situational developments, and continues to participate in the national discussions with industry, state government and commonwealth government stakeholders and experts.

PIRSA is also continuing with preparedness and planning considerations for the ongoing biosecurity risk that varroa mite poses to South Australia. This includes the purchase of acaricides and sticky mats for PIRSA surveillance for varroa mite, updating the response plan for an SA detection, and planning how to work closely with SA industry to best educate and engage with South Australian apiarists.

By its nature, this planning must be reviewed regularly, of course, to account for developments both interstate and here. PIRSA continues to engage in this review. An updated plan is expected soon. The plan will be the subject of ongoing review as developments occur and we are pleased to continue to work with the apiarist industry that includes both commercial apiarists and hobbyists.