Onshore Biosecurity Levy fails to get the green light

By Gabrielle Stannus

The Federal Government has missed an opportunity to share responsibility for national biosecurity more equitably across industry with its recent decision not to proceed with the Onshore Biosecurity Levy.

In 2017, an independent panel responsible for reviewing the national biosecurity system presented its final report, Priorities for Australia's biosecurity system, to the Agriculture Ministers' Forum. This report explicitly acknowledged that the national biosecurity system is built on ‘shared responsibility’, i.e. the cooperation, investment and actions by all governments, industry bodies, exporters and importers, farmers, miners, tourists, researchers and the broader community.

Its authors recommended that funding for the national biosecurity system should be increased through several measures, including but not limited to the implementation of a per-container levy on incoming shipping containers of $10 per twenty-foot equivalent unit and a levy of $5 on incoming air containers.

Onshore Biosecurity Levy
Based on that recommendation, the Australian Government announced in the 2018-19 Budget that it would impose a levy on imports arriving by sea from 1 July 2019. Through this levy, it expected to raise $360 million over the following three years. However, implementation of this levy was delayed so the government could consider feedback from impacted industry sectors on the proposed levy design.

The then Department of Agriculture undertook a co-design process with its Onshore Biosecurity Levy Industry Working Group to develop a levy model that was practical for industry and the government. This working group included peak bodies representing trade and logistics service provider industries. An independent industry steering committee was separately appointed to consult with potentially affected parties. It included members of the shipping, petroleum and cement industries and a single representative of the agricultural sector, Tony Mahar, chief executive of the National Farmers’ Federation.

Last month, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment announced that it would not proceed with the Onshore Biosecurity Levy. It said that the consultation process highlighted that a levy could not be implemented without significant regulatory impacts on industry and proposed levy payers.

Biosecurity budget
The Department says its decision not to proceed with the Onshore Biosecurity Levy will not impact the overall biosecurity budget, with Australia’s biosecurity system continuing to be funded through existing arrangements. It claims that since 2012-13, budget for biosecurity programs has increased by more than 40 per cent, or almost $250 million, with approximately $850 million available in 2019-20 1 . However, global traffic and trade is projected to increase rapidly over the next five years, with the number of shipping containers arriving in Australia projected to rise by 75% during this time .

This rise in imports will increase the likelihood of pest incursions occurring, potentially threatening the health of the greenlife industry. Some of the greatest threats to our industry are arriving on imports from other industries whose viability is ultimately not threatened by the introduction of those pests here. One notable example is the highly mobile brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys).

Case study: Brown marmorated stink bug
The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) is one of Australia’s top 10 National Priority Plant Pests. The ability of this bug to lie dormant and spread hidden in cargo has enabled it to make its way to new regions of the world and spread rapidly. It can be found in large numbers seeking shelter from cold weather in crevices or protected areas of shipping containers, vehicles, boats, caravans, machinery and personal stored items 2 . Plant Health Australia claims that the BMBS poses a high biosecurity risk because it affects a very wide range of horticulture and other crops and could also impact native and amenity plants 3 . If it established in Australia, it would be extremely difficult and expensive to manage.

During the 2019-20 BMSB season, there were 25 live and 183 detections of dead BMSB at Biosecurity intervention points 4 . Post Biosecurity comprised 4 live and 14 dead BMSB detections. Live BMSB were found on 11 roll on roll off (RORO) vessels either by crew during vessel self-inspections or by Biosecurity officers on arrival. Two vessels presented an unacceptable biosecurity risk and were directed to leave Australian waters. RORO vessels are cargo ships designed to carry wheeled cargo, such as cars, trucks, semi-trailer trucks, trailers, and railroad cars, that are driven on and off the ship on their own wheels or using a platform vehicle.

Greenlife Industry Australia’s response
Peter Vaughan, Greenlife Industry Australia CEO, has sent a letter to Minister Littleproud expressing his concern that the Onshore Biosecurity Levy will not be implemented. He is seeking a meeting with the Minister to discuss alternative mechanisms to ensure that importers bringing in products that place other industries at risk share the financial responsibility for national biosecurity.

Stay tuned …
In the next edition of National Nursery News, we will continue our coverage of this issue. We will examine the costs of biosecurity incursions and identify those stakeholders currently responsible for paying for them, before exploring what an alternative to the Onshore Biosecurity Levy could look like.


1. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 2020, Onshore Biosecurity Levy, media release, 20 May, viewed 22 June 2020,

2. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 2019, Hitchhiker pests: Brown marmorated stink bugs, viewed 23 June 2020,

3. Plant Health Australia 2019, The National Plant Biosecurity Status Report 2018, viewed 23 June 2020,

4. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 2020, Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) Update: General updates for the 2019-20 Brown marmorated stink bug season, Edition 7, 19 June