Local government and the Biosecurity Act 2014

The Biosecurity Act 2014 (the Act) which commenced on 1 July 2016, provides a cohesive legislative framework that provides proportionate powers and flexibility to respond in a timely and effective way to animal and plant diseases and pests. Under the Act there has been no substantive change for the role of local government.

Chapter 3 of the Act provides for the matters relating to local governments. The main biosecurity function of each local government continues to be the management of invasive plants and animals in its area. The Act does provide a more comprehensive range of response tools and associated powers tailored to address the unique nature and tactical challenges presented by individual biosecurity threats.

Invasive biosecurity matter

The term invasive biosecurity matter under the Act more clearly defines local government responsibility. Invasive biosecurity matter is defined to include only invasive plants and animals that are listed as prohibited and restricted matter in schedules 1 and 2 of the Act. Local governments can include strategies for addressing locally significant invasive species in their biosecurity plan or make a local law for management.

The general biosecurity obligation and local government

Under the new Act, local governments, like other persons, are obliged to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise biosecurity risks posed by their activities. This is known as a general biosecurity obligation (GBO).

To meet their own obligations, local governments may wish to consider formal planning processes for biosecurity risk management to demonstrate due diligence. Local government will only be able to enforce the GBO if the risk is related to invasive biosecurity matter.

Biosecurity plans for local government areas

Local governments and their communities continue to be best placed to control local weed and pest animals. They can develop practical and appropriate solutions to deal with these risks. Under the Act, biosecurity management plans development has been streamlined. The requirements for Ministerial approval, the planning processes and the term of a plan have been removed.

Two or more local government areas are able to work on a plan and implement the activities jointly. Plans should be reviewed regularly, however it is up to the local government how often and how they go about reviewing the plan.

The state government is able to assist local governments by providing information about the development of biosecurity plans. Although it is not mandated, best practice plan development would include extensive involvement and consultation with local community and industry. It would also be recommended that local governments consult with Biosecurity Queensland and other state government agencies with land management responsibilities.

Biosecurity programs

Under the Act, a local government can authorise a biosecurity program for the local government's area. Biosecurity programs allow local governments to be proactive in identifying and managing weeds and pest animals. The program authorisation must detail:

  • the biosecurity matter to which the program relates
  • the purpose of the program
  • the area
  • the powers of authorised officers
  • the obligations of a person impacted by the program
  • the period of time that the program will be carried out.

A surveillance program may be authorised to monitor compliance with the Act, or to confirm the presence, or determine the extent of the presence, of invasive plants and animals. Alternatively, a surveillance program may also monitor the effects of measures taken in response to a biosecurity risk or confirm the absence of the biosecurity matter.

A prevention and control program may be authorised to prevent the entry, establishment or spread of weeds and pest animals in an area or to manage, control or eradicate them to reduce a significant biosecurity risk.

Powers under the Act

Under the Act a local government Chief Executive Officer is able to appoint an authorised person. An authorised person has certain powers of entry to check compliance with the Act or to take action under a biosecurity program.

An authorised person appointed by a local government, in exercising their powers, is subject to the directions of the local government Chief Executive Officer. There will be a range of options for local government to promote compliance with the new law. This ranges from awareness raising and providing education material through to issuing specific biosecurity orders where a person has failed to discharge their GBO, on-the-spot fines, prosecutions and injunctions.