General biosecurity obligation
All Queenslanders have a ‘general biosecurity obligation’ (GBO) under Queensland's Biosecurity Act 2014.
This means that everyone is responsible for managing biosecurity risks that are:
- under their control and
- that they know about, or should reasonably be expected to know about.
Under the GBO, individuals and organisations whose activities pose a biosecurity risk must:
- take all reasonable and practical steps to prevent or minimise each biosecurity risk
- minimise the likelihood of causing a ‘biosecurity event ’, and limit the consequences if such an event is caused
- prevent or minimise the harmful effects a risk could have, and not do anything that might make any harmful effects worse.
What are ‘biosecurity risks’ and ‘biosecurity events’?
To properly understand your responsibilities under the GBO, you need to understand what is meant by ‘biosecurity risks’ and ‘biosecurity events’.
A biosecurity risk is the risk that exists when you deal with:
- any pest, disease or contaminant
- something that could carry a pest, disease or contaminant (e.g. animals, plants, soil, equipment—known as ‘carriers’).
A biosecurity event is an event that:
- has, or may have, a significant harmful effect on human health, social amenity, the economy, or the environment and
- is caused by a pest, disease or contaminant.
The GBO shares the responsibility for managing biosecurity risks more broadly so that we can reduce the likelihood of having a biosecurity event.
What biosecurity risks can you be expected to know about?
The law says that you are responsible for managing biosecurity risks that you know about or could reasonably be expected to know about.
You are not expected to know about all biosecurity risks, but you are expected to know about risks associated with your day-to-day work and your hobbies.
- If you are a commercial grower, you are expected to stay informed about the pests and diseases that could affect or be carried by your crops, as well as weeds and pest animals that could be on your property. You are also expected to manage them appropriately.
- If you are a livestock owner, you are expected to stay informed about pests and diseases that could affect or be carried by your animals, as well as weeds and pest animals that could be on your property. You are also expected to manage them appropriately.
- If you are a landowner, you are expected to stay informed about the weeds and pest animals (such as wild dogs) that could be on your property. You are also expected to manage them appropriately.
- If you transport agricultural produce, you are expected to check whether the transportation could spread diseases or pests. If it could, you are expected to manage this appropriately.
- If you live or work in a highly promoted biosecurity zone (e.g. are a builder or developer in the fire ant biosecurity zone), you are expected to know what you can and cannot move into and out of the zone, and what other precautions are required.
- If you are a residential gardener, you are not expected to know about all the biosecurity risks that might affect plants. However, you are expected to know basics information about how to reduce the risk of spreading a pest or disease, as well as the problem pests in your local area. Your local government will identify problem pests.
What are reasonable and practical steps?
The steps that are considered ‘reasonable and practical’ will vary depending on the situation and the risks involved. Key factors include:
- how likely an activity is to pose a risk—the more likely it is, the more action you are expected to take
- how harmful an activity could be (e.g. whether it could cause human deaths, extensive productivity losses or other significant economic or community losses)—the more potentially harmful it is, the more action you are expected to take
- how much the person managing the activity knows, or should reasonably be expected to know, about the risk (e.g. how dangerous it is and how it is spread)—the more you know, or should be expected to know, the more action you are expected to take
- what methods are available to minimise the risk (e.g. equipment and work practices)—the more readily available a method is, the more action you are expected to take.
Information is widely available on reasonable and practical steps that can be taken to meet the GBO for many common pests and diseases (e.g. on government and industry websites).
In addition, where a specific and significant biosecurity risk exists in a particular industry or because of a particular activity, government may introduce regulations or other measures that specify how the GBO is to be met for that risk. These might include:
- arrangements for treating pests, diseases, contaminants and carriers
- restrictions on moving them inside or outside a biosecurity zone
- a mandatory code of practice for reducing the risk.
Information on these kinds of measures will be promoted and available to the relevant groups.
How can you reduce biosecurity risks?
In most cases, you can reduce biosecurity risks by following simple steps. For example:
- Manage pests (e.g. weeds and wild dogs) and diseases on your property that could have negative impacts on neighbouring properties.
- Carefully examine animals before moving them. Moving animals will pose a biosecurity risk if they are carrying pests or diseases that could affect agricultural industries. Check for animal diseases that could be spread by contact with other animals, and for weed seeds.
- Closely inspect pot plants and potting mix before taking them home. They will pose a biosecurity risk if they are carrying fire ants or electric ants, or plant pests, weeds or diseases that are not already present in your suburb or region.
What will happen if someone does not meet their obligation?
Biosecurity Queensland focuses on educating Queenslanders about biosecurity and encouraging voluntary compliance with the GBO. To achieve this, Biosecurity Queensland generally provides advice on managing specific risks. A biosecurity officer can also issue a biosecurity order requiring specific action to be taken within a reasonable time.
When necessary, Biosecurity Queensland takes formal compliance action to ensure an individual, business or other organisation improves the way they manage biosecurity risks. Not complying with the GBO is an offence.
Biosecurity Queensland may also seek a court order or the amendment, suspension or cancellation of a permit or other approval.