Speech made by Shane Ardern,National Party Biosecurity spokesperson, to a joint meeting of Advocates For The Tongariro River and Federation of New Zealand Freshwater Anglers
21st October 2007
Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.
I have always been passionate about New Zealand and in particular our countryside and the way of life that we enjoy. As a Taranaki dairy farmer I understand the need to protect our primary industries against incursions But also as a politician I want to ensure that we play our part in protecting our environment. For the past four years I have been the National Party Biosecurity Spokesman. Too many people just sit at the back of the hall and are not prepared to stand up and be counted.
For that reason I congratulate the Advocates for the Tongariro River and the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers. You obviously care about New Zealand and you are prepared to make a difference.
I know that you are interested in what National will do to stop Didymo spreading to the North Island. I will come back to Didymo but I need to give you a background picture of where National sees Biosecurity and where we know that our policies can make a difference. Because although at the moment we are battling Didymo, unless we do something, our borders will continue to be wide-open to a wide range of incursions which could be just as destructive.
How many times have we heard that? We have the best biosecurity system in the world? I wish it was true but the statement is a myth.
The truth is that other countries are either too late to set up biosecurity borders, or the pests that we are trying to keep out are native to their country. We have a unique environment and one that deserves our
There are too many instances of where the system has failed, and Didymo certainly is a clear example. We know that Didymo was left unchecked for far too long and by the time it was realised that man not wildlife was the cause of spreading, it was too late. The waterway should have been closed down but it wasn’t for a variety of reasons and the full consequences have yet to be realised. We know that checks of water equipment should have been done at the border, but that was overlooked. We know that the Minister thought that Didymo wasn’t too big a problem, because he was comparing it to the northern hemisphere where the colder weather is a form of control. We know that too little, too late was done. We know that despite efforts more and more waterways are becoming contaminated. Unfortunately we know that we were unprepared and caught napping.
When you make a decision should you try and eradicate there are many factors to consider, but the most important consideration has to be that containment usually fails.
So when you cross eradication off your list, be prepared for the fact that the pest/disease/organism has just been given a New Zealand passport.
For that reason I am angry that the Minister did not allow BNZ to attempt eradication of Varroa in Nelson. There was a good chance of success and the option was refused because the Minister said that there would probably be another outbreak sometime in the future. That’s true – there probably would have been. But he ignored the bigger picture.
If we could have kept the South Island free of Varroa, then we had a bee population which was not weakened by Varroa with all the associated problems which the UK and the USA are facing. The bees become resistant to the treatment, they are susceptible to disease and in the years to come people will look at what we did and wonder why and how a Government could have been so short sighted.
The potential cost of the Minister’s decision could be billions of dollars and more importantly we lost the chance to have a bee population which was clean and green. It was a stupid decision. Anderton’s lack of response and his lack of integrity when dealing with Didymo and the Varroa Outbreak highlights his lack of knowledge, experience and interest in Biosecurity. Lack lustre describes his performance as a Minister and the longer he is there, the more damage he creates and the harder it becomes to protect our environment.
The most dangerous enemy for Biosecurity at the moment is a culture of apathy that has started to appear and an almost indecent willingness and haste to think that it is too hard to stop incursions and protect our borders.
We are too slow to react and we are too quick to dismiss eradication as an option.
So what needs to be done?
The Biosecurity Policy is under discussion, so I stress that at this time, these are only proposals, but National is united in wanting to put in place strong polices.
In 2006, we issued nearly five and a half thousand fines to visitors entering our country. Under National those who deliberately flaunt our biosecurity laws, we are not talking about someone who accidentally brings in an apple off the plane, we are talking about people that hide banned goods in their luggage will be deported. We can not afford nor should we allow them to gamble with our environment and Our health and our economic future.
It won’t take long for the message to get through and we will see compliance.
Combined with deportation, we also need to substantially increase our instant fines, why? Because last year 2,311 New Zealanders were caught at our airports with biosecurity risk items. We can’t deport them, but clearly the $200 instant fine is not working.
Here are some facts:
Nearly 16 tonnes of fruit fly material
Over 8 tonnes of meat and poultry products
3 tonnes of dairy products
and nearly 4 tonnes of seeds
each product threatening our environment and economy were found on passengers entering our airports. I find it incredible that instant fines for littering are about to be increased to $400, yet biosecurity breaches which could cause millions if not billions of dollars of damage stay at $200.00.
We are going to fix that.
I also want to investigate synergy between Customs and MAF staff at airports and other entry points into New Zealand. With increased ability to screen items with new technology and pressure From lack of room at our airports and growing numbers of passengers, we must look at ways in which we keep waiting times for passengers to a minimum but at the same time not compromise our border control. Stress and the need to push people through our checkpoints will lead to mistakes.
Having touched on what we can do at our borders, we then have to look at one of the major risk factors when it comes to biosecurity incursions.
In the past five years 233 new organisms have been detected as being present in New Zealand and it is suspected that there are a great many more which have yet to be catalogued.
Our container checks and import health standards are failing dismally. 8,000 containers arriving in New Zealand in a year were found to have some form of biosecurity risk. This doesn’t include the 70,000 biosecurity items found in used vehicles/machinery.
We need to secure greater compliance, we need to update our risk-profiling system and we must prosecute those who do not comply with our standards.
The Auditor General has released several damming reports on our container process and the reaction to improve has been slow. He also criticised our handling of our Import Health Standards. It doesn’t matter how robust these standards are, they are only as good as the system and the people that operate that system.
Raw pork from Korea came into this country via a container and was found on supermarket shelves in Tauranga.
We receive reports that containers with nursery stock are opened on the wharves and they watch the bugs fly out into our atmosphere, with the comment that It is ok because there are not too many trees around.
We have ships releasing ballast waters into our waterways even though there are strict regulations against this procedure.
Our industries have a right to be concerned about import health standards. The scientific data put up as an argument to allow the import is debatable but overwhelmingly what is frightening is the fact that we have a poor record in ensuring that our health import standards are complied with.
We must sort this out before we allow any biosecurity risk items into New Zealand.
Anderton’s political spin is that we can’t control our borders, it is just too hard.
And with increasing trade and passengers it will be difficult.
Well I don’t accept that it is too hard,
I don’t accept that we have to live with more and more incursions entering our borders and I will not accept that we should give up.
That is why I am very keen to set up an Emergency Animal/Marine Response Agreement similar to that in Australia. This will establish a mechanism to facilitate the making of rapid responses to, and the control and eradication or containment of, certain diseases and other biosecurity risk organisms.
What this agreement does is it will take away the uncertainty and procrastination over the direction of a response. Government and other parties work to agree on a share costs based on the agreed response plan for an outbreak of a disease that falls within one of four categories.
The funding percentage will be decided beforehand.
This is a voluntary agreement, but it brings certainty and gives those involved in protecting our environment and our industries, the ability to plan long term .
Groups I have spoken to are open to looking at this scheme.
They were previously under the mistaken impression that if there was a biosecurity outbreak then the government will immediately respond. They don’t want to be caught out again. This will be a vital tool to avoid the mess that we have seen in recent times, under this Government.
No longer would there need to be so much time taken up discussing what should or shouldn’t happen, who takes responsibility, and who pays.
Industries and agencies would know where they stand and government agencies could swing into action immediately.
But the Emergency Response Agreement can not work on its own and that is where we have the next step – Pest management Strategies.
With input from industry, strategies gives us A plan of action before incursions take hold.
You would think that this was commonsense, other countries have these strategies, in fact our own Professor Morris is an international advisor on helping other countries set them up, but NZ doesn’t, despite advice from BNZ to Anderton when he first became Biosecurity Minister.
The Government has only just released documents with similar proposals to these that were put together by an independent working party. Proposals that we were suggesting before 2005, but I am grateful at least that the first steps have been taken.
Didymo is the result of a lack of strategy.
And I will give you another recent example. When the equine flu outbreak hit Australia, you would have read BNZ’s immediate action and how much they did to close down our borders. What they didn’t tell you was that they didn’t have a strategy set up to close the airport borders. It was the weekend and there was no procedure in place.
Visitors came through from the infected area, informed the biosecurity staff and they were just waved through. Apparently biosecurity outbreaks don’t happen at the weekend! The biggest concern about this is that there should have been in place staff and facilities dealing with people arriving from the UK with the outbreak of Foot and Mouth, so what was the problem?
Well we don’t know. Despite questioning the Minister in the House, he evades the question.
Although BNZ now tell us that the procedural hitch has been fixed. Great comfort to the horse industry.
National also proposes introducing a Biosecurity Contingency Fund to enable finances to be made available quickly to control incursions once discovered.
Funds can be released by requiring the approval of the Ministers of Finance and Biosecurity. The paperwork and long delays until decisions are made invariably rules out eradication and has made management difficult.
With Didymo, funds had to be actually taken from the Painted Apple Moth fund, until Cabinet gave approval to deal with this emergency and even then it was pathetically too little, too late. At least let our decisions be made for the right reasons and not let them try and be justified because we did not move fast enough through lack of money and bureaucratic red tape.
Legislation must reflect the need for speed when dealing with incursions. The present Act limits the Minister’s ability to react to emergencies. A review of the Act will ensure that the Minister can put in place funding and strategies immediately.
Biosecurity relies on the work and efforts of others, the government can not do it alone. We need to reshape the forms of our present partnerships to more proactively address the challenges ahead. We must have clear direction to all parties, especially between local and central government to optimise contingency planning and response capacity. Civil Defence have a very clear guideline incorporating all the local government, central government and key community people in cases of emergency and there Is no reason why we can not use the same model.
Earlier this year I travelled around visiting Regional Councils to discuss Biosecurity and in particular Didymo. Overwhelmingly they wanted to be part of the deal, they showed an enthusiasm and a strong sense of duty. But bureaucracy, and a fear of being left by BNZ to carry the financial burden has left some Councils refusing to enter into partnerships with Biosecurity NZ.
This is a road to disaster and we intend to ensure that we get everyone working together.
Which brings me to another interesting point.
If we are to have strong biosecurity laws, if we are serious about biosecurity then Crown land has to come to the Party and meet its obligations as a landowner. DOC is a major landowner in New Zealand.We must march to the same set of rules. Much of the conservation estate has different pest management issues, priorities and consequent management requirements.
Pest threats and weeds do not recognise land ownership or boundaries.
And there is no point in having a large conservation estate if we can’t manage our pests and worse become one of the major offenders. It is all about team work and it is all about getting those Structures set up so that we can and will work together. We want to work closely with government departments, local Councils, interested parties and industry so that there is consistency in pest management with clear guidelines and direction.
Our plans mean action Not costly delays.New Zealand is threatened by thousands of exotic species that could cause harm. Some are well known with recognised impacts; others are not recognised as pests until too late.
The long-term impact of what is perceived as non-threatening could turn out to be as devastating as Foot and Mouth. If it is naïve as the Minister suggests to work towards having strong border controls, If it is naïve to believe that we can stop the large number of incursions taking residence in New Zealand, then I would rather be naïve, than abjectively accept the alternative.
We have a great number of experienced scientists, pan industry groups and people like yourselves all prepared to say that we want to fight to retain the New Zealand that we know and we want to pass on to our children and future generations a country that we can continue to be proud of.
So to return to Didymo.
I have spent time with Biosecurity NZ and DOC travelling with them to view Didymo in the South Island. You have a right to be concerned, the impact on the waterways is traumatic.
As mentioned earlier I also visited Regional Councils, in particular Environment Waikato, Canterbury, Otago and Southland Regional Council.
The overwhelming response was a sense of helplessness, and anger that they were not more involved And the concerns that they would be left to clean up the mess. I know that Australia has very strong requirements for used fresh water and recreational water equipment from New Zealand and that Tasmania has gone further And banned felt soled waders.
Well I asked the Minister what we were doing and how many people were coming into NZ with fishing or other water recreational equipment. In other words how many people were being stopped at the borders?
The Minister told me that they did not keep any records! So how do they know how big a risk we face with not only Didymo but other algae and how can they calculate what resources are needed? I suspect, that there are many who go through our borders unchecked.
This is where my thinking is at with regard to Didymo.
I think that there is a strong case to ban used felt soled waders coming into New Zealand from overseas and to only allow them into the North Island from the South Island after they have gone through a certified cleaning and treatment regime, similar to that used in Australia.
This will mean that if you take fishing gear from an airport in the South Island or on the ferries you have to supply the authorities with the item in a sealed container or bag, with the appropriate certification from BNZ.
When it comes to vehicles and boats there should be a drive through station near the ferries which decontaminates the underside and the wheels. We are talking about cattle trucks and four wheel drives and boat trailers. The boats themselves would need inspection from BNZ and sprayed before they are allowed onto the ferry.
We know that despite a tremendous effort from your group in supplying information and cleaning gear, that the voluntary approach has been ignored by many. The Minister has dismissed Didymo as not that important. He told you in correspondence to your group that the cost of Didymo would be between $58 million to $285 million. We know that they have already spent $12 million in the South Island to no avail. I suggest that even the higher $285 million is an optimistic figure and of course does not take into account the environmental cost or the potential cost to the hydro electricity industry.
He has quite obviously passed the buck to the community and I consider this a cop out.
Worse still, the Minister’s attitude filters down through the system and if he regards it as inevitable that it will reach the North Island and if he regards it as not that big a problem, then that is how other people regard Didymo. It is all about leadership or in this case lack of leadership. I can assure you that I do consider it a priority to keep the North Island free of Didymo. It is disappointing that initial promising tests on Didymo control have not been conclusive. We therefore must all do what we can to stop it moving across the Cook Strait.
It has been my pleasure to spend time with a group of people who care as passionately as I do about New Zealand and its environment and to know that we share the same goals.