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Connecting the biosecurity dots

After three years, the much-anticipated 2nd Australian Biosecurity Symposium brought over 400 of Australia’s key agricultural, government, research, and community sectors to the Gold Coast last week.

The symposium is a flagship event of the Biosecurity Collective – a shared initiative consisting of Animal Health Australia (AHA), Invasive Species Council (ISC), Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) and Plant Health Australia (PHA) intended to influence the direction of Australia’s biosecurity system towards 2030, particularly in engaging all Australians in building a stronger biosecurity system and building a mass biosecurity movement.

The event is proudly sponsored by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Biosecurity Queensland, the National Biosecurity Response Team (NBRT), James Cook University, CEBRA, Wildlife Health Australia and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Day 2 focused on connecting the dots between broader national activities that enhance and strengthen the Australian biosecurity system and mainstreaming biosecurity to the general public.

“We all know that biosecurity outbreaks are continuing to rise in volume and complexity. Over the next decade, Australia needs a biosecurity movement to meet the challenges facing the national biosecurity system and influence the direction of the future biosecurity system,” said Sarah Corcoran, CEO of Plant Health Australia in the opening address.

One of Australia’s most well-respected health journalists and host of Radio National’s Health Report and Coronacast, Dr Norman Swan shared his experiences and knowledge in mainstreaming important messages to a broad audience in the keynote address.

Dr Swan’s address provided delegates with key takeaways on how we can mainstream the importance of biosecurity practices, bringing about positive and sustained engagement from the broader population.

He said every pandemic in history has highlighted the poverty gap and that we need to bridge the gap from awareness to practice change.

“We need to have a plan, it needs to flexible, sustainable and we cannot leave people high and dry,” Norman said. “Biosecurity is not a nice to have or a five-year plan, we need to get communities mobilised.”

“A lack of cooperation provides a fertile environment for biosecurity risks to spread,” he said.

In the first panel discussion of the day, environmental, agricultural and industry leaders explored a range of measures to help strengthen Australia’s biosecurity system. The panel focused on key activities such as the national biosecurity strategy and how it can effectively integrate to ensure a resilient Australian biosecurity system.

Dr Bruce Christie, Chair of the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, has always been a strong advocate for a National Biosecurity Strategy.

“A National Biosecurity Strategy is really important to give us the direction we need to manage risks on a national scale. We now have a workable version that all parties can talk to,” he said.

Invasive Species Council Ambassador, Christine Milne AO, urged delegates to join the dots and make themselves heard to ramp up the movement to make biosecurity a bigger issue with more funding.

“The key in joining the dots, is for people working in government to bridge to the community, get activists to act and to put pressure on decision makers to free up dollars,” she said.

Nathan Hancock, CEO of Citrus Australia and Chair of the Plant Industries Forum Committee said that it is important to consult with industry in biosecurity matters.

“We need to engage more. We need to allow industry to participate and set the direction of biosecurity decision-making,” he said.

“Primary industries are at risk of incursions and many of us have had personal experience dealing with incursions,” Nathan said. “Having dealt with an incursion, my mission is to communicate to industry on the importance of being prepared and involved with biosecurity.”

President of Agforce, Georgie Somerset said: “Biosecurity has been an industry focus because it’s an economic driver. Primary industries are engaged in biosecurity, we are aware, we have biosecurity plans, but it’s about how we engage the community.”

Sal Milici, Head of Border & Biosecurity with the Freight and Trade Alliance said khapra beetle incursions have quadrupled over the past few years. He also said risk is usually based on the quality of a container or where it ships from, but the latest pests were found in low-risk goods from low-risk countries.

“Khapra beetle recently made its way from a shipping container into packaging and when it was found by the community, they didn’t know what to do and rang Crime Stoppers. It is clear that we need to educate the community, but we also need some sort of contact tracing for shipping containers.”

Concurrent Session #4

Genetic technology 2030

Social attitudes to mainstream biosecurity

Advances in science and engagement for invasive ant management

One Health

In the session about Genetic technology 2030, Stacey Lynch from Agriculture Victoria, presented ‘Infectious disease high-throughput sequencing, setting us up for 2030’.

“High-throughput sequencing allows us to understand and control infectious diseases,” she said.

In the panel discussion about social attitudes to mainstream biosecurity, Sonia Graham, Senior Research Associate at the University of Wollongong said: “To create movement, we need to get emotional, talk to people’s hearts and connect on a deeper level.”

Concurrent Session #5

Turning data into intelligence and information

Northern Australia/ Indigenous

Digital surveillance innovation

Citizen science/general surveillance reporting

CSIRO’s Rieks van Klinken set the scene for a panel discussion on turning data into biosecurity intelligence, saying there is huge potential to generate insights from biosecurity for businesses, industry and government.

Panellist Rich Keane, Chief Data and Analytics Officer from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), presented the department’s data intelligence vision.

“DAWE’s vision is a robust, risk-based, data-driven biosecurity system that protects Australia’s health, economic, environmental and national security interests against biosecurity threats,” he said.

David Gale from PHA’s presentation was about using AUSPestCheck™, a data aggregation software system designed to collate and provide disease and pest surveillance data, to connect the dots.

“Opportunities exist for industry and government to work together to collate data for specific pests to support trade and market access,” David said.

In the session about digital surveillance innovation, Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn, Research Scientist at CSIRO, presented: ‘Mobile identification of biosecurity threats using image recognition’.

“Fast and reliable identification is critical. The earlier we detect something, the sooner it is less likely to establish,” he said.

In a panel discussion on the Northern Australia Biosecurity Surveillance Network (NABSnet), Pauline Brightling, Harris Group Principal, said: “We’ve been talking about connecting the dots and NABSnet has been doing this for a long time by bringing private vets into the biosecurity system.”

Greg Owens, Industry Development Manager, NT Farmers Association, talked about an integrated approach to biosecurity and a shared vision for Northern Australia.

“In the Territory we’ve built a community of trust that underpins biosecurity resilience. We’ve built a strong system through a series of very small steps,” Greg said.

Concurrent Session #6

Empowering action

Connecting the dots

Myrtle rust advances

Opportunities to mainstream biosecurity

Talking about myrtle rust, Michael Robinson from the Plant Biosecurity Science Foundation, called for an action plan with national coordination, developed over several years, and underpinned by a substantial technical review.

“What is good for the land must come first. This sentiment needs to drive us with more courage,” he said.

Dr Lucy Tran-Nguyen, National Manager, Diagnostics at PHA, presented: ‘The evolution of technologies in plant pest diagnostics – where are we now? What is on the horizon?

“Accurate and timely diagnostic identification is critical to manage plant pest incursions,” she said. “Diagnostics support surveillance programs, pest control and risk mitigation.”

Callum Fletcher, Biosecurity Coordinator at AUSVEG, presented: ‘Solving the collaboration conundrum: a meaningful approach to improving industry and government collaboration in biosecurity’.

“We’ve taken a systematic approach to recommendations and actions in various strategies relating to Northern Australia to highlight key areas and how to address them. We’ve also looked at creating legacies with things that can be done,” he said.

Marta Hernandez-Jover, Professor in Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health at Charles Sturt University, presented: ‘Small-holder, big biosecurity opportunity’.

“Only 51% of small holders surveyed belong to a group that offers support,” she said.

In closing, the Biosecurity Collective’s four CEO’s, Kathleen Plowman from AHA, Andrew Cox from ISC, Andreas Glanznig from CISS, and Sarah Corcoran from PHA, concluded the symposium.

“It’s been an amazing symposium that has highlighted the enormous amount of change that has happened over the past three years since the last symposium. I was really pleased to see how we are gaining momentum in innovation and transformation of the biosecurity system, the progress in environmental DNA detection, and the work by the University of Adelaide around e-commerce surveillance,” said Andreas.

“The top outcomes for me over the past two days have been the linked themes on connecting the dots and mainstreaming biosecurity. We’ve heard about programs already in place delivering on this,” said Sarah.

“In order to achieve our reach, we need to amplify the biosecurity message. This means more engagement, more participation, and more space for diverse views,” she said.

In closing, Kathleen reiterated what Norman Swan said about community-based action, and what Christine Milne said about a bottom-up approach to sharing the biosecurity message.

“We need guerrilla campaigning – it’s communities and people who are going to lead us out of this. We need to have a platform at the top, so the people at the top can hear us. We need parliamentary friends of biosecurity,” she said.

Andrew Cox said invasive species are the biggest driver of environmental loss and extinctions, the destroyer of whole industries and livelihoods.

“Biosecurity is our problem. It’s our chance to make things right to save what we believe in, and what we value,” he said.

“As part of the Decade of Biosecurity, we can only reach our goal of 25 million biosecurity champions by all bringing a spirit of generosity and courage. And by living and breathing biosecurity,” he said.

During the symposium, PHA held an online biosecurity resilience survey to assist in understanding biosecurity resilience perspectives. Key biosecurity stakeholders shared their thoughts on how biosecurity resilience could be supported, boosted and enhanced. Kevin Taylor from the Nature Conservation Council of NSW completed the survey and won a $200 gift card.

Outcomes from the 2nd Australian Biosecurity Symposium and the launch of the Decade of Biosecurity will be made available online in the coming weeks. Follow the discussion and keep the conversation going by using and following #BioSym2022 on social media.

Building a biosecurity mass movement

Following the resounding success of the inaugural Australian Biosecurity Symposium in 2019, over 400 of the country’s leading innovative minds and influential players converged on the Gold Coast to network, brainstorm and unite under a common purpose to accelerate biosecurity reform.

The 2nd Australian Biosecurity Symposium offers an opportunity to share research outcomes, explore outside-of-the-box thinking and exchange knowledge and ideas across the biosecurity collective – agriculture (animals and plants), pest animals, weeds, wildlife, aquatics, humans and the environment.

This year’s symposium theme is ‘a decade of biosecurity: turning a moment into a movement’. Australia’s biosecurity system faces unprecedented pressure. To address this pressure, strong leadership and innovation are essential. The symposium provides the ideal platform to explore how to transform Australia’s biosecurity systems to better protect our economy, environment and way of life.

The symposium continues the work of the Biosecurity Collective – a shared initiative consisting of Animal Health Australia (AHA), Invasive Species Council (ISC), Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) and Plant Health Australia (PHA), to define and influence the direction of Australia’s biosecurity system towards 2030, particularly in engaging all Australians in building a stronger biosecurity system and building a mass biosecurity movement.

Presentations and panel discussions are positioned around four themes:

  1. Connecting the dots: enhancing the system and its resilience
  2. Empowering action: working together for transformational change
  3. Future-focused: how science and tech are paving the way forward
  4. Mainstreaming biosecurity: turning buzzword into a way of life.

The symposium commenced with well-known environmental educator and television presenter Costa Georgiadis, who drew on his all-consuming passion for plants and people in his introduction.

Costa reminded delegates of their role as communication amplifiers and encouraged them to use their reach to share biosecurity moments.

“The symposium offers an opportunity to influence the direction of Australia’s biosecurity system,” he said.

“We’re focusing on biosecurity preparedness, as it’s not a case of if, but when a new biosecurity threat arrives,” Costa said.

Plenary session #1

Dr Anika Molesworth, a farming thought-leader, researcher and future shaper, delivered the first keynote address on ‘Empowering action: working together for transformational change’.

Anika, who has a PhD in international agriculture and environmental management and lives on a family farm in far west New South Wales on the lands of the Wilyakali people, spoke from personal experience about climate change and her work with rural communities.

Anika took delegates on a climate change journey, reflecting on where we have come from and where we are going, instilling courage to enable us to choose the story we want to create for our land and the legacy we want to leave.

“We have commonality in complex problems. We are here because we are problem solvers. We all believe there is a better way of doing things,” she said.

“I walk alongside others who are on a climate change journey, trying to find ways to shift the trajectory so that we have the best future imaginable,” Anika said.

Concurrent session #1

  • Advances in e-DNA surveillance
  • Surveillance: new thinking
  • Hot topics
  • Behaviour change

In her presentation about Holding back the tide: science-based tools for biosecurity risk management and incursion response, Jane Muller from CSIRO, said that Australians eat almost 4 million tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables each year of which 96% is grown in Australia.

“Phytosanitary risk management tools open up opportunities to harness emerging technologies and existing datasets,” Jane said.

Samantha Allen from AHA presented on Lumpy skin at the border: are we making the right moves to prevent an outbreak within the cattle sector?

“There is growing recognition that we need to get smarter with surveillance rather than just upscaling the things we’re doing now, so we can remain disease free for the next 20 years,” Samantha said.

Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, presented Australia’s biosecurity outlook: a plant health perspective.

“In 2020 over 56,000 overseas seed parcels failed to meet import conditions,” she said.

Aaron Dodd from CEBRA talked about Biosecurity is valuable, right?

“The thing about biosecurity is that we are trying to protect assets and we need to focus on that – environment, agriculture, infrastructure and social amenity,” he said.

Kirsten Phillips, Engagement Manager at Biosecurity Queensland, spoke about Defining behaviour change priorities for biosecurity.

“Lets focus on good biosecurity behaviour …. what we can do versus what we shouldn’t do,” she said.

Plenary session #2

Dr Debbie Eagles, Deputy Director, Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness at CSIRO, an epidemiologist with a background in vector-borne diseases and extensive experience in animal health and biosecurity preparedness and response in Australia, delivered today’s second keynote address.

She highlighted how research and innovation is fundamental in transforming the national biosecurity system and how a transformed national biosecurity system needs to be underpinned by digital and genetic surveillance systems supported by citizen science, big data analytics and fully integrated pre-border and post-border systems.

“Speed of detection is imperative to effective, efficient control,” she said.

“The biosecurity sector is facing significant threats but through science and technological innovation, and engagement of the broader community, we are capable of transformational change,” Debbie said.

Concurrent Session #2

  • Modelling risk for resilient biosecurity systems
  • Shared responsibility
  • Advances in e-commerce surveillance
  • New connections

In his session about Shared responsibility for biosecurity: beyond educational and compliance-based approaches, University of Tasmania Researcher, Vaughan Higgins encouraged delegates to take an alternative approach through relational responsibility. He spoke about shifting emphasis from key target audiences to those influencers on the periphery to increase adoption of biosecurity practices.

Rob Delane, the Inspector-General of Biosecurity presented Towards a more accountable biosecurity system. “The rhetoric about ‘shared responsibility’ and ‘biosecurity partnership’ articulated by the department and the post-border beneficiaries of effective prevention biosecurity measures, is not matched by a genuine, practical and sustained commitment to ‘partnership,” he said.

“The fundamental nature of biosecurity demands that all parts of the biosecurity system are alert, inquisitive, communicative, decisive and operationally disciplined,” Rob said.

Sandra Steele, a lecturer in Veterinary Epidemiology and One Health, presented Shortcomings in companion animal biosecurity and disease surveillance. “There is a need for structures, specific companion animals, alongside animal health systems,” she said.

In his presentation about Online compliance and engagement strategy tackles prickly situation, Chris Hollingdrake from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, said: “Engagement and enforcement need to be integrated. Neither work in isolation.”

Concurrent session #3

  • Connecting the dots
  • Building resilience
  • Future-focused
  • Advances in pig biosecurity

In his presentation about Ensuring Tasmania’s biosecurity future: 15 years of the Tasmanian Biosecurity Strategy, Andrew Bishop, Tasmania’s Chief Plant Protection Officer, said following the progressive implementation of the Biosecurity Act, work on progressing a third iteration of the Tasmanian Biosecrity Strategy is almost complete.

“The new edition of the Strategy is expected to be released this year and once implemented it will take us past two decades of a strategic approach to biosecurity in Tasmania,” Andrew said.

Wee Tek Tay from CSIRO presented East and West: working together to disentangle fall armyorm global introduction pathways.

His speedtalk covered multiple introductions of fall armyworm in Asia and Southeast Asia and multiple pathways into Australia, looking at the significant structures and gene flow of the western versus eastern populations of fall armyworm.

“We’re only as prepared as our neighbours are,” he said.

Fiona Constable, Research Leader at La Trobe University, presented the International trade of seed: science informing risk.

“We tested four online platforms and seeds from 20 suppliers and found booklice, grain beetles and lepidopterans,” she said.

Grower managed plant protection and biosecurity systems was presented by John McDonald, National Biosecurity Manager at Greenlife Industry Australia where he presented the biosecure Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system.

“80 per cent of nursery industry time is spent in compliance,” he said.

Nathan Hancock, CEO of Citrus Australia and Chair of the Plant Industry Forum, presented CitrusWatch: launch of a multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder approach to commodity protection.

“16,460 citrus interceptions occurred in 2017, which is approximately 5.5 per cent of biosecurity interceptions for that year,” he said.

“When industry is motivated, resourced, and has the capacity, it can be a powerful contributor to biosecurity resilience,” Nathan said.

In her presentation about Plant health in One Health – critical for safeguarding life, Lois Ransom, a plant pathologist, said you need healthy plants to ensure a healthy environment.

Plenary session #3

Today’s final session launched the 2020s as the ‘Decade of Biosecurity’, a collaborative initiative seeking to engage all Australians in a stronger biosecurity system. The initiative began as an outcome of the 2019 Australian Biosecurity Symposium to future-proof Australia’s biosecurity system.

With a special address by the Hon Mark Furner, MP, Queensland’s Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries and Minister for Rural Communities, the program aims to mobilise a 25 million strong mass movement, secure sustainable investment in biosecurity, foster innovation and create a formal partnership between government, industry and the community.

This initiative is being advanced by the ISC on behalf of the National Farmers’ Federation, Landcare Australia, National Landcare Network, AHA, PHA, NRM Regions Australia, and the CISS.

“Through the Decade of Biosecurity, we seek to put industries, businesses and community members at the centre with governments so that together we can achieve a stronger biosecurity system to better protect our economy, environment and way of life” said Andrew Cox, CEO of ISC.

“We need to build a biosecurity system ready for 2030. And we need to start now. We want to ensure that every individual Australian, business and organisation recognises and understands their role and the important contribution they can play in creating a stronger and more resilient biosecurity system” he said.

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