Federal Parliament passes Amendment to biological control legislation

There is now certainty around the use of viruses in controlling pests, such as the European Rabbit and Carp, after an Amendment to the Biological Control Act 1984 was unanimously passed in record time during the Parliamentary sitting last week.

The Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016 arose out of an ongoing scientific debate as to whether a virus can be classified as an organism and as a living entity. As such, the bill has amended the definition of ‘organism’ to specifically include viruses and subviral agents. It also omits the term ‘live’ from references to agent organisms.

The amendment now provides greater certainty for stakeholders who research, deliver and benefit from biological control programs, including scientists, farmers, land managers and the community. The bill also supports the Australian government’s commitment to support the rollout of our RHD Boost project.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce said in a media statement that the amendments would clarify the definition of an organism to be consistent with the original intent of the Act. 

“These amendments support the original intent of the Act, providing for the declaration of viruses as biological control agents. This will remove any ambiguity related to the ongoing scientific debate about the definition of an organism,” Minister Joyce said.

The Hon. Joel Fitzgibbon MP supported the amendment of the Bill saying during the Parliamentary debate “we need a war on weeds, we need a war on pest animals…..Of course, part of the armoury will be biological control”.

The Hon. Scott Buchholz MP stated what the Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016 would mean for his electorate “I know there are many local farmers in my electorate who have an ongoing battle to control rabbit populations on their properties…Rabbits are bad news for the crops I mentioned earlier—lettuce, broccoli and especially carrots…..Of course that spoilage then rolls through and has an effect on the hip pockets of mums and dads when they are buying fresh produce from retailers. This bill holds the potential to finally control rabbit numbers in a fast and effective way”.

The Hon. Ann Sudmalis MP noted that biocontrol is not a silver bullet, with reference to rabbits noting “we as a nation still need to control rabbits, as they have developed some resistance. Initially, the release of the two rabbit biocontrol agents led to a dramatic reduction of Australia’s rabbit population. That reduction has recovered more than $70 billion to the agricultural industries since 1950. There still needs to be a lot more research into the methods of overcoming that resistance”.

The Hon. Nola Marino MP emphasised during her speech that “biological control agents will continue to be subject to considerable testing and approval processes prior to release in Australia…It contains provisions to ensure that biological control activities are subject to liability protection and can proceed without interruption by litigation.

The bill does not change the existing basic scientific, technical or safety features and standards applying to biological control. Biological control agents will continue to be subject to considerable testing prior to release in Australia. However, the amendment now gives legal certainty to the Australian Government in relation to the proposed release of RHDV K5 to boost rabbit management and Australia’s first potential carp biocontrol agent – Cyprinid herpes virus 3. The act is part of a mirror legislation scheme, and the Commonwealth will continue to work with the states and the Northern Territory to ensure that there is a nationally consistent approach.

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Read about the Invasive Animals CRC and its partner organisations’ approach to biocontrol: