Responding to a biosecurity emergency

A response to a biosecurity event, such as foot-and-mouth disease, Panama disease tropical race 4 or an incursion of a marine pest such as Asian green mussels needs to be supported by legislation that allows expedient but proportionate action to be taken.

A number of instruments have been developed to provide responses to biosecurity based on the level of the risk involved. These instruments range from short-term emergency powers through to long-term or indefinite regulatory arrangements to respond to serious biosecurity risks.

Biosecurity emergency order

The Act provides a range of instruments that allow a fast and appropriate response to emergency biosecurity events and allows the Chief Executive to authorise a Biosecurity Emergency Order if an urgent response is necessary to:

  • isolate an area relevant to the emergency
  • stop the spread of any biosecurity matter associated with the biosecurity event
  • eradicate the biosecurity matter.

To make a biosecurity emergency order, the Chief Executive must have reasonable grounds based on:

  • the seriousness or potential seriousness of the event
  • its likely impact on biosecurity considerations such as human health, the environment or economy.

A biosecurity emergency order cannot  last more than 21 days and will only be used in the case of a serious biosecurity emergency eg:

  • equine influenza
  • foot-and-mouth disease outbreak

Powers under these provisions are significant and include the capacity to:

  • appoint police officers and authorised transport officers as inspectors under the Act, to stop and inspect vehicles
  • allow inspectors to enter a place, give directions to destroy biosecurity matter or carriers
  • take other steps to minimise a serious risk.

Ability to enter a premise to take emergency action

In the event of a biosecurity emergency, inspectors have additional powers under the Act. The powers allow an inspector to enter a place without a warrant or the occupier's consent in order to take necessary and reasonable steps to mitigate the risk posed by biosecurity matter, only if it poses an immediate and significant risk.

If an inspector uses this power, they must notify the Chief Executive. The power can only be exercised long enough to avert the risk posed by biosecurity matter or the activity, or until 96 hours has elapsed since the powers were first used.

Movement control orders

The Act allows the Chief Executive to make a movement control order, restricting the movement of biosecurity matter or the carriers of biosecurity matter. These orders can last up to three months and provide an interim measure while regulations identifying biosecurity zones are being developed.

A movement control order is primarily used to assist in the management, reduction or eradication of a stated biosecurity matter (controlled biosecurity matter). It does this by prohibiting or restricting the movement of biosecurity matter or a carrier. This could include controls over the movement of stock or produce to control the spread of a disease.

The Chief Executive must have reasonable grounds to believe that the controlled biosecurity matter poses a biosecurity risk of enough significance to justify the making of the order.

Proportional action to manage risks

The Biosecurity Act 2014 enables Biosecurity Queensland to respond, even if the threat is not immediately identified or a specific risk is not listed.

Authorised officers can take proportional action across a broader range of biosecurity risks as well as take pre-emptive action to avert a biosecurity event. This will require more discretion because of the less prescriptive nature of the legislation.

This application will allow a quicker response. Any action taken must be in proportion to the biosecurity risk. An authorised officer has powers under the Act to enter a place without a warrant or consent where an immediate and significant biosecurity risk requires immediate action to mitigate the risk. This power can only be exercised to deal with the immediate risk. Once the immediate risk has been handled the officer must leave. The Act provides a range of limitations on the exercise of powers and protections of individuals' rights.

Biosecurity Order

An authorised officer will have the power to give you a biosecurity order when you have not met your statutory obligation with respect to biosecurity matter.  They must be given in writing, with a record of the order kept on an official register.
If an authorised officer reasonably believes that you have failed, or may fail to discharge their general biosecurity obligation, they may issue a biosecurity order regardless of the circumstances in which they entered the property.

The order may include:

  • the action the recipient must take to discharge their biosecurity obligation
  • a time, or stated intervals, when the authorised officer will enter the place, a vehicle or another place the recipient is the occupier of to check compliance.

The Chief Executive, or the Chief Executive Officer of a local government, may apply to a court for an injunction restraining you from doing something or requiring you to do something so as to stop contravening a requirement of the Act.