The first step in weed prevention, and the most cost-effective means of managing weeds, is to prevent potential weeds entering Australia. More than 70% of plants now considered to be weeds in Australia were intentionally imported for garden or agricultural use.
Because Australia is an island it has some protection from invasion by foreign plants. However, with increased trade and human movement across our borders comes an increased opportunity for potential movement of plants. Weeds, or parts of weeds such as seeds, are small enough to enter Australia in or on luggage, cargo, mail, equipment, vehicles, food, animals, plants or even people.
The Australian Government has a range of legislation that regulates the import of plants into Australia, including potential new weeds. The legislation is enforced at Australian borders by the Department of Agriculture and the Australian Customs Service. A plant could be prohibited, could be allowed entry, or may require a permit. People planning to import any plants or plant material need to check on the requirements under the legislation before they import.
Australian Government legislation (laws) that control the importation of potential weeds
The Australian Government is responsible for international border protection, including regulating the import and export of plant material. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) and the Quarantine Act 1908 and its subordinate legislation regulate the import of live animals and plants into Australia. Prior to any new plant being imported into Australia, the plant must be assessed for its potential impacts under the Acts. The Australian Government administers both Acts with the cooperation of the states and territories.
- Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
- Quarantine Act 1908
- Quarantine Proclamation 1998
- Apply for a permit to export or import wildlife products
- Application to import quarantine material
Assessment for weediness of plants that are not currently in Australia
Plant species are assessed through a Weed Risk Assessment system to determine whether they are safe to be allowed into Australia.
The Weed Risk Assessment system administered by Biosecurity Australia (a prescribed agency within the Department of Agriculture) and the Department of Agriculture evaluates the potential weed risk to both the environment and/or agriculture of a new plant species proposed for import under the Quarantine Act 1908. The Weed Risk Assessment system utilises a science-based risk assessment methodology to provide quarantine policy advice and recommendations regarding requests for the import of new plant species.
For the purposes of assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act), it was agreed that the Weed Risk Assessment system adequately assessed the potential environmental risk of plants. The Live Import List established under the EPBC Act is taken to include any plant species allowed to be imported under Schedule 5 of the Quarantine Proclamation 1998 of the Quarantine Act 1908. This means that a proposed new plant import is assessed through one agreed process.
The Department of Agriculture regulates the import of seeds from plant species into Australia through Part 7, Section 63 and Schedule 5 of the Quarantine Proclamation 1998 (the Proclamation).
Schedule 5 contains a list of all species that have been assessed as permitted entry into Australia without requiring an Import Permit. Any species not listed on Schedule 5 requires an Import Permit and depending on the requested end use, will require an assessment to determine weed risk.
Where the importer is able to provide evidence to the Department of Agriculture that a species is already present in Australia and not under official control, it will be added to Schedule 5 without the need for a WRA. However where an importer is unable to provide sufficient evidence, the Department of Agriculture will seek a formal WRA of the species by Biosecurity Australia.
Species that have been assessed as posing a weed or quarantine risk are listed as prohibited on the Department of Agriculture Import Conditions (ICON) database. However, large numbers of plant species are yet to be assessed and are not listed.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999's Live Import List is taken to include any plant species allowed to be imported under the Quarantine Act 1908.
In addition, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 regulates the export and import of species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES was established to prevent international trade from threatening species with extinction.
Plant species on these lists are also included on the Department of Agriculture Import Conditions Database (ICON). This database lists the quarantine conditions under which various commodities may be imported into Australia.
- ICON: the Department of Agriculture Import Conditions database
- Wildlife trade and conservation: CITES and the Live Import List
Physically stopping weeds entering Australia
The Department of Agriculture is Australia's first line of defence in protecting our environment against exotic pests and diseases.
The Department of Agriculture and the Australian Customs Service inspect incoming luggage, cargo, mail, animals and plants and their products, and prevent prohibited plants and plant material from entering Australia. The Department of Agriculture also provides inspection and certification for a range of exports. These actions reduce accidental or unauthorised weed entry through baggage, cargo and mail.
Australia's proximity to the South East Asian and Pacific regions places strategic quarantine importance on northern Australia. The Department of Agriculture's Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) aims to protect Australia from exotic pests, weeds and diseases that could enter from countries to its north.
- Recent incursions of weeds to Australia 1971 - 1995 (CRC for Australian Weed Management Technical Series #3 (PDF - 387 KB): (CRC for Australian Weed Management Technical Series #3)
- New plant pests recorded since 1996
- Plants, grains and horticulture