Political Guts


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The chain is only as strong as its weakest link...

Australia has grown up as an agricultural export country, and in recent decades minerals export has taken over as the principal export commodity range.  However, the value of our agricultural industry cannot be understated, nor can it be threatened by lax security on the bio-hazards that exist to Australian agriculture from outside our borders and shoreline.


In 2007, lax security allowed Equine Influenza into Australia and estimates of its cost to Australia range from $500,000 to one billion dollars.  Australia is one of the few countries on the planet without the bug that destroys honeybee hives.  Experts say it’s not a matter of if, but when it arrives in Australia, our honey industry will be decimated also.  We let fire ants into Australia somewhere around the year 2000, and we MAY have beaten them, perhaps the first time ever, anywhere in the world, that they have been eradicated.  However, we still have Cane Toads and a number of other introduced pests that are and will continue to cause incredible damage to both our economy and ecosystems.


We have the problem where corporate and individual greed often tries and sometimes succeeds in getting past the current fairly casual AQIS and Quarantine/Customs checking arrangements.  It has to stop.


Again, technology can provide an answer.  Whether drugs, biohazards or pests, we DO have the technology to prevent their entry to Australia.  Sniffer dogs currently check passengers at airports and luggage systems for drugs.  However, they can be trained to sniff out more pests and contraband than just drugs.  Technology has taken a dramatically larger step.  In recent years, incredibly sensitive instrumentation has been developed to test substances as varied as wine aromas and proven more accurate than the connoisseurs noses, perfumes, a very wide range of biohazards, drugs, smoke and many more scents far too subtle for the human nose to detect, and more sensitive than many sniffer dogs noses.


Aside from the cost, there is little practical reason why this technology could not be installed in every airport in Australia, every port, with portable devices for checking every container and every ship that enters Australian waters.  Every air cargo hold, before opening, could be tested to warn customs officers that some of the cargo was suspect.  If the political step was taken to install this equipment, then quarantine issues would be a minor issue as the deliberate attempts to breach it would virtually cease.


That only leaves negligence and natural transmission to be dealt with.  Negligence is what caused the Equine Influenza outbreak and there have been sackings over it.  The recommendations and the lessons from this hopefully will be implemented so that negligence is not and will not be an issue.  Areas to be watched include ballast water from cargo shipping, freight loading and handling in general, and pest infestation of cargo or cargo packaging and international pleasure yachting vessels carrying pests without realising.


Natural transmission could occur from such obscure factors as migratory birds, driftwood, and quarantine periods shorter than incubation periods of diseases or insects blown across sea regions such as Torres Strait in North Queensland.  There are possibilities that indigenous traffic in northern regional areas could also perhaps unwittingly introduce pests on animals, boats or other vehicles.  There is little defence against this natural traffic, and only vigilance in eradication as our safeguard.


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Putting the pressure on our politicians and leaders, to take the decisions that need to be taken right now, to solve the problems we have, that we already know how to solve!