In a report released on 12 August– A sustainable and nationally coordinated plant biosecurity RD&E system for Australia – Keogh states that the establishment of a standalone plant biosecurity corporation, as a joint venture between the Australian Government, state governments and plant industries, should be a priority.
The report states: “The structure should have the flexibility to bring in other partners (for example the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries) and also to enter into joint-venture projects with other industry participants, such as grain or horticulture trading corporations.
Additionally it recommends that the structure be led by a dedicated, skills-based board, elected or appointed by contributing organisations or governments and have annual funding levels approximately equal to the current Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC) (around $25 million per annum).
The focus should be on strategic and cross-sectoral plant biosecurity research, development and extension (RD&E) projects and providing enhanced opportunities for the training and development of younger researchers.
Keogh says with no future sustainable plant biosecurity RD&E system yet described for Australia, resources for Australia’s biosecurity RD&E and surveillance on the decline, and the potential for major plant disease incursions increasing, there is a perfect storm brewing.
The Report, commissioned by the PBCRC, follows significant consultation with government, industry and research providers.
“Consultation confirmed broad support for a new approach to biosecurity RD&E, revealed a range of interpretations about how the current system works, and varying views on the best vehicle to drive a future RD&E system,” says Keogh.
Dr Michael Robinson, CEO of the PBCRC, observed there were many issues that were agreed upon by stakeholders.
“Through the consultation processes stakeholders were unequivocal in recognising the need for biosecurity to support Australian agriculture, growing its market and trade opportunities. We all agree on the need for nationally funded and coordinated plant biosecurity RD&E – for that we have consensus. Full stop. Consensus.”
“We also agree on the need to move now. The CRC has played an important cross-sectoral role over the past decade and any lapse between the CRC finishing in 2018 and a new system will leave a gaping hole in the plant biosecurity RD&E effort, not just for Australia but in the region and beyond,” says Robinson.
Tony Mahar, Chief Executive of the National Farmers’ Federation reiterated the importance of biosecurity in a recent blog saying: “it is one of the highest priorities for Australian Government services to both the Australian community at large and to farmers in particular. Our biosecurity system has a high level of research, development and extension capability in the plant and the livestock industries.”
Shenal Basnayake, CEO of NT Farmers said it is crucial that any future framework for plant biosecurity R&D involves and integrates industry and on-farm biosecurity within the overarching biosecurity R&D system. “Robust, peer reviewed, verifiable and science based R&D which is globally accepted will be key to maintaining a vibrant plant industries sector within Australia,” writes Basnayake in a PBCRC blog post.
Robinson says the Plant Biosecurity CRC is committed to leading the process, knowing that a long-term, nationally-coordinated research effort is essential for all agricultural interests.
“However, we can’t do it alone. We know there is no ‘correct’ answer on a future plant biosecurity RD&E structure, nor an ‘optimal’ structure from every stakeholder’s perspective but we firmly believe that through collective and constructive leadership we can avoid this potential perfect storm.