Shaping Victoria’s Biosecurity Future workshop

The Shaping Victoria’s Biosecurity Future workshop was held online on 17–18 June 2021, hosted by Agriculture Victoria. Over 100 individuals participated from industry, community, and government, representing a wide range of sectors. Together, we explored opportunities to strengthen the biosecurity system.

The program covered four themes:

  1. strengthening partnerships and engagement
  2. modernising legislation and enhancing regulatory practice
  3. improving our preparedness for biosecurity emergencies
  4. enhancing information sharing and surveillance.

The program was built around the findings of a series of engagement activities led by Agriculture Victoria over 2020–2021, to understand stakeholder perspectives on biosecurity. The engagement findings are summarised in the workshop framing paper.

Workshop highlights  

  • Transformation of the biosecurity system is an imperative: incremental change is not enough to meet the growing challenges and pressures.
  • Victoria needs a more collective approach to biosecurity, drawing on the skills and knowledge of community, industry and government.
  • Biosecurity cannot be done alone: it needs engagement across the system, including building knowledge and capacity of community and industry to share responsibility.
  • A good biosecurity system is an enabler: an investment, rather than a cost, for farmers, industry, community, government.
  • There are many positives to build on: Victoria and Australia take biosecurity seriously; there are many success stories.
  • Biosecurity stakeholders need clarity and transparency in their roles and responsibilities.
  • Collaborative models should be built into the legislation: to shift from the current, outdated approach.
  • The legislation needs greater harmonisation across states and jurisdictions
  • Stakeholders need genuine opportunities to shape the direction of biosecurity legislative reform.
  • Biosecurity is more than just agriculture: a stronger system will recognise how biosecurity protects communities and the environment, and the individuals and organisations working in these sectors.
  • Preparing for biosecurity emergencies is not ‘set-and-forget’: it is something we need to continually build and adapt with community and industry.
  • Improving the quality, integration, accessibility and consistency of data, technology and surveillance networks will improve surveillance and information sharing.

The following sections summarise ‘what was said’ during a series of facilitated sessions and breakout groups over the two-day event, including small-group discussions and collaborative brainstorming.

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Keynote speakers

A series of invited keynotes provided their perspective on biosecurity, to provide a frame for what we mean when we talk about the ‘biosecurity system’.

  • Dr Andy Sheppard, Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO, spoke to the value of a strong national biosecurity system and the need for transformation.
  • Dr Katherine Clift, Executive Director Biosecurity Services, Agriculture Victoria, outlined the results from Agriculture Victoria’s stakeholders engagement.
  • Dr Kaye Rodden, Secretary, Victoria Rabbit Action Network, and lamb producer, outlined the Victorian Rabbit Action Network’s model of collaboration.

A biosecurity wishlist

Participants were asked to nominate one change they would like to see in Victoria’s biosecurity future. Common themes included:

  • Biosecurity is everyone’s business and needs to be incorporated into daily life
  • Better coordination and streamlining across states and nationally
  • More partnerships and engagement across the sectors
  • Better sharing of information and data
  • Improved planned and prepared for emergencies, with community involvement
  • More funding and resources to support the system
  • More effective biosecurity regulation.

Participants endorsed the need for better ways of working together across the biosecurity system, recognising that no one group is responsible for biosecurity. There was agreement that stronger relationships and more formal partnerships will improve sharing responsibility across the biosecurity spectrum.

There was a strong sense that biosecurity needs to be undertaken in a more cooperative way so we can leverage skills and capacity for the benefit of the whole system.

The challenge is getting the right mix of bottom-up and top-down approaches. This includes how to effectively devolve or share decision making, and develop targeted messaging for engagement channels across a diverse and complex system.

Good partnerships and engagement need to be based on:

  • Openness and trust between partners to support effective, two-way communication.
  • Mutual respect and a common understanding of the roles, strengths and constraints that groups bring to biosecurity.
  • Commitment across time and crises to work in partnership, including adequate resourcing and recognition of the local insights that industry and community bring.
  • Collaboration across sectors and commodities to prioritise issues and engage more broadly.
  • Existing local structures and networks where possible, to leverage off existing investments and engagement

Participants explored how we can improve our legislative and regulatory frameworks through the current reform process.

The characteristics of good legislation were highlighted as:

  • flexible enough to account for differences across the system
  • adaptive as the system changes over time
  • clear and easy to understand
  • clear lines of responsibility across all areas of biosecurity
  • greater harmonisation between states and territories
  • practical and driven by its impact on the ground
  • collaboration focused to support co-delivery and cooperation.

Participants noted several factors that will support effective reform in Victoria. Victoria has an opportunity to build upon the recent biosecurity legislation reform in other states. The drive within business and industry to improve biosecurity practices is high. Recent biosecurity emergency experiences, including COVID-19, has impacted the broader community’s understanding and appreciation of biosecurity. There is also political recognition of the need for reform, and drive from biosecurity leadership to modernise our frameworks.

Challenges for legislative reform include the current legislation’s lack of support for cooperative models, poor interstate harmonisation, limited cross-agency cooperation, and the complexity of the many current acts related with biosecurity.

Building on these opportunities and challenges, participants nominated several high-priority actions for legislative and regulatory reform:

  1. Use learnings from other jurisdictions, industry and COVID-19: what worked well (and didn’t) in other reforms; what industry tools and resources can be used; how can we build on current high levels of biosecurity understanding?
  2. Plan ahead, resource, engage, communicate: map out the reform process, including how it will be resourced, how community and industry will be involved, and how messages will be shared.
  3. Collaborate: work with industry bodies, other agencies and key stakeholders to ensure change is driven by both bottom-up and top-down feedback.

Participants discussed improvements that could be made to biosecurity preparedness over a range of timeframes. In the next two years, the priorities are more resourcing, training and capacity across the system, using modelling and forecasting to better understand gaps and risks, and improved communication with the community about risks and responsibilities.

Over the next five years, biosecurity planning is a priority, including using legislation and incentives to encourage development of plans, and supporting local- and regional-level planning that connects community groups to biosecurity action. Other priorities include improvements in plant traceability and diagnostics capability.

In the longer term, priorities focused on sustainable funding of biosecurity initiatives, developing a data sharing culture, and developing citizen science initiatives to support biosecurity preparedness.

Participants discussed opportunities to better use their collective capacity in surveillance and data collection. There was a strong sense that improvements could be made through better quality, integration, accessibility and consistency.

Recommended actions focused on:

  • establishing national data standards and processes for sharing data across sectors
  • better education on data sharing and privacy
  • tailored messaging to specific cohorts of 'the community' to build awareness and understanding of their biosecurity responsibilities
  • developing forums to connect people, share learnings and capture local knowledge, and using this to influence local biosecurity action
  • using emerging technology (e.g. drones, satellites) to improve, democratise and extend surveillance
  • supporting biosecurity awareness and data collection by citizen groups and industries with a stake in biosecurity (e.g. gardening networks, bird watchers, plant retailers).

In the final session of the workshop, participants reiterated the need for collaboration and effective communication, and the power in community-led action. The strong commitment to change across senior leaders in industry, community and government was noted. The group’s collective knowledge and expertise identified as a strength for this reform.

Participants committed to continue the conversation with each other, share their learnings within their networks, and consult more broadly with their own stakeholders to identify information needs and opportunities to build biosecurity knowledge.

In closing, Agriculture Victoria Chief Executive, Matt Lowe, highlighted that the discussions had raised some important questions for Agriculture Victoria. He noted several areas of immediate focus including building relationships, developing formal structures to operationalise shared responsibility, inviting stakeholder input to the legislative reform process, and using the many existing networks to improve biosecurity surveillance and knowledge.

Page last updated: 05 Aug 2021