The Australian Government announced a biosecurity levy in the 2018 budget due to be implemented this July that is significantly flawed, according to a statement by fourteen transport and logistics industry associations. In a collaborative statement, the associations urged the Government to remove it from the 2019 Budget. The statement declared that the industry welcomes the Government’s recognition on the need for an Industry Steering Committee to better inform Government on improving the proposed Biosecurity levy scheme design. This announcement is acknowledgement the current proposal is flawed and fails to recognise the damage the levy would do to the competitiveness of the freight supply chain, key export industries and the cruise sector, as well as the higher costs for consumers. The statement continued to express the protection of our natural and agricultural assets is vital to this country from both an environmental and financial perspective. The industries represented in this statement are part of Australia’s biosecurity system and take their roles seriously. Which is why we believe in impactful and informed solutions to strengthening Australia’s biosecurity system. The associations expressed their main concerns as:
The rushed nature of a tax designed without fully understanding the potential for far-reaching economic consequences;
Additional and unnecessary costs – particularly to Australia’s tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, energy and construction industries;
Flow-on costs to consumers;
Confusion as to why a new biosecurity tax is required over and above the Australian Government’s biosecurity charges that are currently in place for sea-freight (extensively reviewed in 2015-16) and the passenger movement charge for the cruise sector;
That a biosecurity risk assessment and regulation impact statement has not been undertaken by the Australian Government to inform the development of the proposed biosecurity tax;
A lack of clarity on how the Australian Government would collect the proposed tax; and
No guarantee that all revenue raised by the proposed new tax would be used to support Australian biosecurity measures.
We urge the Government to remove the proposed levy from the 2019 Budget and provide a genuine opportunity to industry to help design a fair and equitable model that improves Australia’s biosecurity ability, concluded the statement. The announcement was signed by Ai Group, Australasian Rail Association, Australian Aluminium Council Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Australian Logistics Council, Cement Industry Federation, Cruise Lines International Association, Fertilizer Australia, Freight Trade Alliance, Gas Energy Australia, Manufacturing Australia, Minerals Council of Australia, Ports Australia and Shipping Australia Limited.
Australia faces a biosecurity risk due to an inadequate risk assessment of wood materials found in packaging materials. Our neighbours across the Tasman have a risk assessment process from which Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) could learn and which, I would argue, would be a huge improvement to our current process. In a nutshell, Australia doesn’t check containers, meaning wooden packaging that has not been fumigated is slipping across our borders undeclared and unchecked. I refer in particular to the processing of Less Than Container Load (LCL) shipments. In the Australian context, LCL require a one-page packing declaration that identifies and ‘risk-assesses’ any wood used as packaging and further whether any wood has been treated to Australian biosecurity standards. If wood is contained and has not been treated, it needs to be inspected, treated or disposed. There are a few issues with this process:
The person filling out the packing declaration is either the supplier or the packer; both commercially connected to the importer and therefore with a potential conflict of interest.
DAWR doesn’t physically check LCL cargo to ensure that forms have been accurately completed.
The template is only supplied in English regardless of the language of the person completing the document, usually an international supplier. I have often wondered how many of the people filling out the form even understand the language on the form.
The form has been changed three times in the past two years.
There is no surprise then, to learn that the forms are frequently incorrect and as a customs broker, I commonly need to ask the supplier to prepare another declaration to bring it to the new standard, or to ask if the answers are accurate. But not all LCL shipments are assessed by a customs broker, self-assessed clearances under the tax-free threshold can be completed by anyone. If Australia is to keep its borders safe from biosecurity risks, it needs to be sure that the risks are not slipping under its nose, and for that we can look to New Zealand’s process. New Zealand, generally regarded to be more responsible for its pristine environment, doesn’t require packaging declarations for LCL cargo. Instead, all LCL cargo is inspected at the unpacking depot before the cargo is released. A system of thorough checks like this is positive because, from the get-go, suppliers and importers know that cargo will be checked, which means that they will self-regulate to meet quarantine requirements in order to avoid storage and or further fees. The process is effective. In the past 12 months, DAWR has changed its one-page packing declaration three times in order to improve its accuracy. But it is still only in English. It is still only filled out by the importer’s people and it is still not checked against the cargo. I would argue, therefore, that it still holds little value. Changing the document doesn’t solve the problem, physically checking the containers would. Peter McRae is the principal of Platinum Freight Management.
The international transport trade body Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) has appointed Andrew Crawford as its head of border and biosecurity, a full-time role responsible for operational support and border policy for the peak body, with the role to commence on 9 May 2018. Read more
Auckland’s International Airport has become the first in the world to deploy a ‘digital’ biosecurity officer. “The idea is for her to take some of the load off MPI officers during peak times by answering simple biosecurity questions from the public,” said MPI’s detection technology manager Brett Hickman. Vai, which stands for Virtual Assistant Interface (Vai), started work last week and is the first ever digital employee to be deployed at an airport. MPI is trialling Vai in the airport’s biosecurity arrivals area to see whether she will become a permanent asset in the team. Vai can see, hear and answer arriving international visitors’ questions. Westpac’s Innovation Fund supported the development of Vai for the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), while FaceMe, a New Zealand-based company specialising in AI, developed the technology. Vai was built using FaceMe’s digital employee platform that offers companies customised digital employees. With training, these ‘employees’ can offer personalised service using natural language. FaceMe’s avatar technology uses biometrics to learn human interactions and will interact accordingly to ease the customer’s experience. “Digital employees also learn from every past interaction to sharpen and perfect their skills,” said FaceMe CEO and winner of the Sir Richard Branson ‘Virgin Business Challenge’ Danny Tomsett. “Vai is highly conversational and has been trained through every interaction, as well as data available on the website. She embodies the AI experience with human like qualities, including a friendly personality and emotional understanding,” added Mr Hickman. “Nothing can replace real human interaction and relationships, but Vai frees up our officers’ time so they can deal with the really important aspects of their role,” he said. Digital employees FaceMe, which was recognised at the ‘Deloitte Fast 50’ NZ awards as one of the country’s fastest growing businesses, believes that the market for AI will grow beyond $47 billion per annum. “Over the next ten years, human contact with organisations will be reduced to less than 15% of interactions. On the other hand, meeting consumers’ expectations is far more complex today than ever before; and there’s still huge strategic importance in customer experience and its impact on company culture, revenue growth and churn. It’s at the intersection of these two realities that there is a powerful opportunity to innovate,” said Mr Tomsett.