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Minister's speech to biosecurity conference

Hon Jim Sutton
Speech Notes 30 September 2003

Biosecurity conference, Wellington


Director-General Murray Sherwin, Ladies and Gentlemen: we are in a new era for biosecurity today.

We have a new Biosecurity Strategy, which sets out a number of expectations for the future. The Government response to the strategy is to firmly grasp the nettle and to address the issues.

This Government has a commitment to biosecurity.

Since becoming the Government in December 1999, we have increased spending by more than $50 million extra a year on baseline biosecurity funding ? as confirmed by the auditor-general.

We have moved to ensure 100 per cent screening of air passengers and crew? up from the 80 per cent of previous governments ? by putting in the extra money for soft-tissue x-ray machines and detector dog teams. In 2001, the Labour-led Government implemented a $200 instant fine for biosecurity breaches found at airports ? something that previous Governments had been too scared to do.

Most recently, we have tackled the most vulnerable point in our biosecurity system ? the screening of sea containers.

We have been working with officials and industry to come up with the best way to close that gap. It is an important area that hadn't been effectively tackled by previous governments, so we needed to make sure we got it right.

The implementation of the sea container screening will be in stages to take account of the large number of containers (450,000), transitional facilities (up to 10,000) and accredited persons (up to 15,000) that will be affected by the new standard. The first ports to be involved will be Auckland and Tauranga, where almost two-thirds of New Zealand's imports come through.

The standard's primary aim is to keep biosecurity risks off shore by requiring exporters and importers to provide more accurate information relating to the container, packaging and cargo. All imported containers must be certified that they have been internally and externally inspected.

The standard also specifies the biosecurity requirements once the vessel has arrived, when the containers are unloaded at the wharf, and subsequent unpacking at transitional facilities. Non-MAF personnel will be able to check containers after they have passed a MAF-accredited training process and MAF officers will continue to inspect all high risk containers. Every container will be required to be unpacked at an approved facility with a MAF approved person present.

A detailed electronic manifest information system to track non compliance with the standard and to allow targeting of high risk containers will be developed later in the year as part of the programme.

The implementation of the new Import Health Standard for Sea Containers was identified in the Biosecurity Strategy as a high priority.

Last month, Cabinet approved extra funding of just over $3.5 million this financial year to begin to begin the process of implementing the biosecurity strategy across the whole of government.

I also welcome the $29 million on research to protect our landscape and animals from imported diseases and pests that the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is funding over the next five years.

These include: · $15 million for work on minimizing biosecurity threats to farming, cropping, and orcharding; · $1.6 million for the development of sensor technology systems for detecting biosecurity incursions within sea containers; and · $12.8 million to improve the protection of our forests from foreign weeds, insects, and diseases.

The Labour-Progressive Government is committed to a philosophy of continuous improvement in biosecurity.

I think the Biosecurity Strategy is quite clear in its ? and the public's ? expectation that the biosecurity system be fully integrated, operating efficiently and transparently, in an environment of continuous improvement.

The strategy contains a further 56 specific expectations in 13 broad categories. I am sure others will discuss these expectation in some detail later this conference. I will touch on some of them in outlining the Government's response to the strategy.

As Biosecurity Minister, I will be working to ensure that we fully meet the Biosecurity Strategy's expectations.

That process has already started, as I said earlier.

There are governance and organization changes. The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry has been given lead agency responsibility for biosecurity, and the director-general of MAF has been given end-to-end responsibility for managing the overall biosecurity system and delivering on outcomes.

This is expected to clarify accountabilities, ensure coherent direction setting, and improve integration between strategic, regulatory, and delivery components of biosecurity management.

I will convene a ministerial committee on biosecurity and Murray Sherwin will convene a chief executives' forum that will help develop and guide strategic direction and monitor biosecurity performance.

I have also asked MAF to look at the best ways to engage with industry and to streamline that process as much as possible.

Other mechanisms may be established to support a whole of system and fully accountable biosecurity approach, such as a central-regional government forum and the Biosecurity Council continuing as a ministerial advisory group.

It will take time to build up these structures and there will be a transition period during which MAF will undertake the development programme necessary to assume its new role and functions.

There will be provision for other agencies to continue with some biosecurity functions on a case-by-case basis under delegation from the MAF director-general.

The Government has invested significantly in biosecurity so far, and I believe it will continue to do so.

But biosecurity has the potential ? as with many other portfolios ? to be a bottomless pit for government funding. It will be a major challenge for officials in the chief executives' forum to agree on priorities for improvements to the system.

There will need to be adequate attention paid to emerging areas such as aquatic and marine biosecurity, possibly our most vulnerable area now that we have tackled sea containers. At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the need to protect the productive systems that underpin our economy and provide the means to protect our unique and valued natural ecosystems.

Departments must join together to form a whole-of-government view of biosecurity. I cannot stress enough the importance of the chief executives' forum. Assessing the benefits and costs of diverse proposals with diverse outcomes and agreeing on priorities will be a huge challenge.

Other challenges in biosecurity include encouraging all New Zealanders ? the young, the old, urban dwellers, rural people, Maori, Pakeha, new immigrants ? to support and participate in maintaining the integrity of our systems.

New Zealanders need to be committed to protecting New Zealand through knowing about and complying with biosecurity requirements and acting as a surveillance resource, watching out for and reporting any unusual finds.

New Zealand already has probably the best biosecurity system in the world.

As an isolated island nation reliant on primary production, we need to have the best systems in place. I'm proud of what we have now, and of the extra resources this Government has put into biosecurity.

But it's not an area we can be complacent about.

And it is an area we will constantly have to work at.

The public have high expectations of our work ? and sometimes incorrect perceptions about our work.

The interception of mosquitos, ants, and moths at the wharves are a success story for biosecurity surveillance ? not a failure of our border protection systems. It shows that our surveillance is working if we are finding these pests as they arrive.

It means that steps can be taken quickly and effectively to prevent those pests establishing here, and requiring either an expensive eradication process or in the worst cases, an acceptance that they are here to stay.

Our country is increasingly urbanized, and our population increasingly alienated from rural life and the realities of our economy's reliance on primary production. That means that you can have ? and we do have - great numbers of people who do not understand why they shouldn't bring fruit or muddy boots into our country. They don't understand why their suburb should be sprayed to eradicate some moth, why their lifestyle should be disrupted.

It's a challenge explaining to our citizens why we operate the way we do. But it's a challege we have to take up.

Biosecurity is important. It's something I as minister and the Government as a whole have a commitment to, and it's something everyone here has a role to play in helping make the system work properly.

I encourage you all to take up that challenge ? and to help me and my officials stay on track.

Thank you.

ENDS


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