Plant and animal pests can cause or have the potential to cause, very damaging impacts to agriculture, forests, the environment, social amenity and public health anywhere in the state.
It is estimated that plant and animal pests cost Australian agriculture and livestock farming approximately $5 billion per annum. Pests can also have a significant negative impact on biodiversity and the environment. Loss of habitat from past clearing, along with introduced predators such as foxes and feral cats are the key factors in the decline of smaller native mammals. Pests like the European Wasp can also have a significant impact on Western Australia’s outdoor lifestyle, tourism and human health if they are not controlled.
Despite Western Australia’s advantage in being isolated and having natural boundaries like the Nullarbor, the challenge to control pests is escalating as the frequency and volume of people and goods entering Western Australia increases. Western Australia covers more than 2.5 million square kilometres and pests do not respect national, state, regional or neighbourhood borders. Once established, pests can be very difficult to eradicate or contain and control.
The Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 (BAM Act) is the principal legislation for the management of pests within Western Australia. It establishes a regulatory framework under the Minister for Agriculture and Food to provide effective biosecurity and agricultural management and provide a state-wide response to pest control. The Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) is responsible for the administration of the BAM Act.
While the BAM Act is the main legislation for the management of pests, there are other Acts that place responsibility on other government agencies to manage invasive species. These include:
- the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (CALM Act) and the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 that define the roles and responsibilities of the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) for managing the conservation reserves and wildlife in Western Australia respectively. These Acts facilitate work by DPaW to manage pests that impact on native flora and fauna. The CALM Act and associated regulations also provide DPaW with mechanisms for management of forest diseases, such as dieback (Phytophthora cinnamomi)
- the Fish Resources Management Act 1994 contains provisions for the prescription and management of noxious fish and is administered by the Department of Fisheries.
The Biosecurity Council of Western Australia (the Council) was established in February 2008 as a specialist advisory group to the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Director General of DAFWA on issues related to biosecurity. The Council liaises with the Biosecurity Senior Officers Group (BSOG) which is comprised of senior executives from each of the state government agencies with biosecurity responsibilities.
Although DAFWA is responsible for the administration of the BAM Act, it is individual landholders1 that must take prescribed measures to control pests. DPaW is one of the largest landholders in the state. It has a responsibility under the BAM Act to control pests on 22 million hectares of national parks, conservation parks, nature reserves, state forest, marine parks and marine nature reserves vested in the Conservation Commission, and six million hectares of freehold and ex-pastoral leases managed for conservation purposes. It has also been made responsible by a government agreement for fire preparedness and pest control on 89 million hectares of Unallocated Crown Land and unmanaged reserves.
Plants and animals that have or may have an adverse impact can be declared a pest by the Minister for Agriculture and Food. Every declared pest is assigned to a category which determines the control measures that a landholder is required to carry out.
The management of pests involves the prevention of new incursions into the state and the eradication, containment and management of pests that are already established. This requires effective pre-border risk assessment, surveillance, border protection and post border response, monitoring and enforcement.
The Invasion Curve detailed in Figure 1 is the standard model used to manage pests in
Australia. It illustrates that the greatest return on investment is achieved through
investing in prevention and early intervention, compared to asset based protection once pests are widespread and established.
Controlling pests is complex and to be effective requires collaboration between stakeholders. There are 169 declared pests that can have a local, regional and state-wide impact on agriculture, forests, the environment, social amenity and public health. There are also thousands of landholders with diverse and sometimes competing land uses. These include state government agencies, local governments, pastoralists, agriculturalists, lifestyle properties and horticulturalists.
Through the BAM Act, groups that control pests that impact on public as well as private interests can receive formal recognition as a Recognised Biosecurity Group (RBG). These groups can raise funds through compulsory rates on landowners in their area to carry out programs to control established animal and plant pests. The funds raised are matched dollar-for-dollar by the state government. This reflects a longer term intention to better align the costs of pest management to the beneficiaries.
Industry can also raise funds for the control of identified priority pests and diseases that threaten the profitability or competitiveness of their industries.
In 2012-13, DAFWA spent $14.6 million in funds appropriated by Parliament on border security and the management of declared pests. An additional $3.1 million in expenditure was funded from Royalties for Regions, Commonwealth and other state governments and $6.3 million spent by RBGs and Industry Funding Schemes. DAFWA advised that expenditure has declined over the last decade and while it is unable to show how much it has declined, it points to a 32 per cent reduction in its full time staff since 2001-02 as illustrative of the reduced funding.
Transparency and consistency are essential to ensure confidence and compliance with the regulatory framework. For the framework to work agencies need: good information; robust and transparent processes to declare a pest; clear plans for what actions will be taken for which pests; and monitoring of the implementation and effectiveness of those actions.
This audit sought to assess how effectively terrestrial pests declared under the BAM Act are managed. DAFWA was the focus of the audit because of its lead role in administering the Act.
1 We have used the term landholder to refer to the landowner or person in control of land. This includes government agencies that have land vested in them, and/or manage such land.