The first step in weed prevention, and the most cost-effective means of managing weeds, is to prevent potential weeds entering Australia. More than 70% of plants now considered to be weeds in Australia were intentionally imported for garden or agricultural use.
Because Australia is an island it has some protection from invasion by foreign plants. However, with increased trade and human movement across our borders comes an increased potential for movement of plants. Plants, or parts of plants such as seeds, are small enough to enter Australia in or on luggage, cargo, mail, equipment, vehicles, food, animals or even people.
The Australian Government has a range of legislation that regulates the import of plants into Australia, including potential new weeds. The legislation is enforced at Australian borders by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Australian Border Force. A plant may be allowed or not allowed entry, or may require a permit. People planning to import any plants or plant material need to check on the requirements under the legislation before they import.
Australian Government legislation (laws) that control the importation of potential weeds
The Australian Government is responsible for international border protection, including regulating the import and export of plant material. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) and the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation regulate the import of live animals and plants into Australia. Prior to any new plant being imported into Australia, the plant must be assessed for its potential impacts under the Acts. The Australian Government administers both Acts with the cooperation of the states and territories.
Assessment for weediness of plants that are not currently in Australia
Plant species are assessed through a Weed Risk Assessment system to determine whether they are safe to be allowed into Australia.
The Weed Risk Assessment system administered by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources evaluates the potential weed risk to both the environment and agriculture of a new plant species proposed for import under the Biosecurity Act 2015. The Weed Risk Assessment system utilises a science-based risk assessment methodology to provide quarantine policy advice and recommendations regarding requests for the import of new plant species.
For the purposes of assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act), it was agreed that the Weed Risk Assessment system adequately assessed the potential environmental risk of plants. The Live Import List established under the EPBC Act is taken to include any plant species allowed to be imported under Biosecurity Act 2015. This means that a proposed new plant import is assessed through one agreed process.
Lists and databases of plants or plant material prohibited from import into Australia
The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment regulates the import of seeds from plant species into Australia through the Biosecurity Act 2015.
Species that have been assessed as posing a weed or quarantine risk are listed as not permitted on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Biosecurity Import Conditions system (BICON). However, large numbers of plant species are yet to be assessed and are not listed.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999’s Live Import List is taken to include any plant species allowed to be imported under the Biosecurity Act 2015.
In addition, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 regulates the export and import of species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES was established to prevent international trade from threatening species with extinction.
Plant species on these lists are also included on BICON, which outlines all import conditions for the importation of goods into Australia.
Physically stopping weeds entering Australia
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is Australia’s first line of defence in protecting our environment against exotic pests and diseases.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the Australian Border Force inspect incoming luggage, cargo, mail, animals and plants and their products, and prevent prohibited plants and plant material from entering Australia. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources also provides inspection and certification for a range of exports. These actions reduce accidental or unauthorised weed entry through baggage, cargo and mail.
Australia’s proximity to the South East Asian and Pacific regions places strategic quarantine importance on northern Australia. The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) aims to protect Australia from exotic pests, weeds and diseases that could enter from countries to its north.