Biosecurity by numbers

Every year biosecurity officers, working for the Department of Agriculture, intercept thousands of plant and animal items before they can enter Australia and potentially devastate entire industries; 2019 was no different.

Australia is a vast island nation. Our isolation protects our environment from plant and animal threats that can easily cross land borders in continents like Europe, Africa and Asia. Data is a critical tool and indicator for the department to determine key biosecurity threats that come here via air and sea.

Between January and October this year, Australian biosecurity officers around the country, stationed at our ports, mail centres, and airports intercepted over 290 thousand items of biosecurity concern, with approximately 40 thousand sniffed out by biosecurity dogs.

Biosecurity officer and dog

This was no easy task with approximately 19 million people travelling by air to Australia during this time. Data can make the job easier by recognising statistical trends and what potential threats to look out for in flights and ships at particular times of the year, including unnoticed stowaways like insects in wood products and bugs on muddy shoes. 

At the beginning of the year we heard about the outbreak of African swine fever, which is estimated to have killed a quarter of the world’s pigs. It has been spreading closer and closer to Australia, between January and October this year, over 27 tonnes of pork products have been confiscated at our borders. A recent round of targeted testing found almost 50 per cent of pork products seized from air travellers tested positive for fragments of the deadly pig disease which has the potential to devastate the entire industry in Australia.

Data plays a vital role in supporting biosecurity officers when it comes to protecting our nation’s unique environment from threats like African swine fever. Data underpins operational detection planning at the department from what resources we need and when, to what is coming into Australia and how best to address it.
Across the major international airports (from Jan-Oct), biosecurity officers intercepted over:

  • 80 thousand in Sydney
  • 50 thousand in Melbourne
  • 34 thousand in Perth

Some of the common items people have tried to bring into Australia are:

  • Contaminated footwear
  • Apples
  • Salami, sausages, and other smallgoods, and
  • Seeds.

Because the potential damage to Australia’s environment and economy is so high, many instances of both accidental and deliberate breaches result in fines and other penalties. As at 12 December the following actions had been taken:

  • 8,079 infringement notices carrying a penalty amount of $420 each
  • $985,800 in court-imposed fines from 13 convictions
  • 6 visa cancellations 

Public sector data continues to be an important resource across the Australian Government, underpinning critical functions like the department’s biosecurity work to safeguard the environment, agricultural industries and plant, animal and human health.

Contribution Public Data

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