Media conference in Darwin

23 March 2022

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's good to be here with Jacinta Price, my good mate, and also Tina Macfarlane, here in Darwin today to make a very big announcement about biosecurity. The threats that are revolving right across the planet are now on Australia's doorstep are real to Australian agriculture, and to our environment. And over the last two Budgets, we put over a billion dollars' worth of new programs. We're changing the dial in terms of how we are treating these threats. We are moving towards intelligence and technology, but that also has to be complemented with more boots on the ground and more paws on the ground. And today, because Northern Australia is at the front line of our biosecurity [indistinct] defence, let me say, we are $61.6 million additional money into making sure we are putting more boots up here, more paws, doing more surveillance, more diagnostic work, and also embracing technology to build our capacity to be able to actually address these threats and to catch them quickly, and to address them and to eradicate them. So, particularly when you think of things like lumpy skin disease that's now been found in Indonesia, $15 million alone will be set aside for that to make sure that we have those surveillance crews on the ground. But also, we are sending our Chief Veterinary Officer to Indonesia this week to be able to work with the Indonesian Government to make sure that we can give them best practice and to help them. It's also about making sure that we expedite a vaccine for lumpy skin, and that's obviously being done very quickly, and this money will go towards ensuring that because if we got lumpy skin into this country, and particularly for Northern Australia, you would lose your export markets overnight and that would devastate the Northern Territory straight out. And so this is a big investment in making sure we're ahead of the curve, understanding that these threats are real and they are coming in real time. And so this money is in addition to the $80 million we put out every year up here in Northern Australia with Indigenous Rangers and the programs that we've got putting in place here. The roadblocks that we are now also moving towards is about increasing our capacity at our ports to make sure that we can detect more threats as they come through. We're going to go from around 5 million containers to about 8.5 million containers by the end of the decade. And to be able to actually go through each container is impossible. So we rely on intelligence and we've previously put in $14 million to be able to trace back where containers have been for up to four years. And that gives us the intelligence to know that if a container was sitting in Africa two or three years ago, then that poses a threat and we can deploy resources to that container as it comes to Australia.
We're also the first country in the world that are now using 3D X-ray scanners at our post offices. All 144 million parcels are now being scanned through a 3DX-ray scanner with artificial intelligence. And we are now starting a trial with New Zealand that will complement the digital declaration card where you get on a plane in New Zealand, put a declaration card about whether you have any goods on your bag, in your bag, you will you will then complement that with your bag going through a 3D X-ray scanner. We will know what's in your bag and what you have declared before you even take off. And if you fail to declare, we are going to square up with you. We have lifted the fines from $444 to $2664. And only last week we used that, as well as cancelled the visa of a student who brought in ten kilos of meat products. We sent them home and they're not welcome back for three years. They can do distant learning because if we were to see foot and mouth disease in this country, it'd be a $50 billion exercise to the Australian economy. So biosecurity is a real live threat to our border security. This investment is one that makes sure that we put Northern Australia at the forefront of ensuring that we keep safe and that we will continue to make those investments as the threats involve and we have to be agile. And that's why this additional money into what we've done over the last two Budgets, over a billion dollars, is testament to the fact that we understand the real live threat here, particularly in Northern Australia, what it'd do to, not only the beef industry, but also the horticultural sector. So a very a very big investment. And there's also an investment, a small investment today, around Ehrlichiosis, which is a disease for dogs. It's borne through ticks. We're making sure that we actually start this education process, particularly in remote communities, that they play a pivotal role in transferring dogs, that they ensure that those dogs are healthy and they are tick free. And so we don't have a vaccine for this at the moment. There is no real research being done. So what we are trying to do is educate to start with, to ensure that communities, and particularly individuals, live up to their own responsibility of making sure their animals are healthy before they put them in a car and they move. And we've already seen dogs lost here in Darwin and right across the Territory, now into South Australia and in my home state of Queensland and Western Australia. So it's important that everyone plays a role in this. We are trying to buy time until there is a vaccine but that is a long way off and it's important now that we work together as a community to try and stop the spread, and particularly those more urban areas that haven't had this before may be inflicted with this virus if we aren't able to work together.
So big announcements today around our biosecurity and particularly here for Northern Australia. This is an important investment in you. This will create more jobs, more boots on the ground, more paws on the ground up here in the Northern Territory. An investment in you, but an investment in the Australian economy.

QUESTION: For the audience, can you explain why the live export trade would be stopped overnight if lumpy skin disease gets into the north?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, simply, the export protocols and risk assessments that other countries have with us preclude the export of those animals, as we would those imported into Australia if it was ever to happen. So it is simply around risk assessment that are done between countries in negotiating market access. It's as simple as that. So that's why we're moving swiftly. As soon as Indonesia announced only two weeks ago that they had cases in Indonesia, we moved quickly to make sure that we had a targeted approach and we're using, hopefully, even more Indigenous Rangers on the ground being out there. Because if we find a case, then it's important to be able to isolate it and eradicate it. And that's why more surveillance is important, more boots on the ground, and particularly more paws. We'll have more dogs up in Northern Australia in high risk areas to make sure that we are providing that level of security that's required. And we can do that diagnostic work very quickly because the quicker we act, the quicker we eradicate.

QUESTION: You mentioned there's potentially a vaccine, which would be great for the cattle industry. What about the large feral herd of buffalo?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. So APVMA will be provided with some money to undertake those urgent applications for approvals of those vaccines. There's a number of vaccines around the world and I think what we're trying to identify is what is the best way, not just for cattle, but for buffaloes as well. So we're trying to prioritise what is the best one for Australia.

QUESTION: You'd never be able to vaccinate the whole feral population though, would you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh no, no, sorry, not necessarily in terms of the buffalo- in the cattle, I should say, is that we're trying to identify what is the best vaccine and…

QUESTION: Minister. There's a story coming out this morning, some Tiwi and Larrakia traditional owners are taking international legal action over Santos's…

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I'll just finish up biosecurity before we rush off onto other topics if you don't mind. So in essence what we are trying to do is make sure we're prioritising the approval process of those that will be most effective here in Australia. That's effectively what we're trying to do. There may have to be some sort of testing regime if we get a case here in Australia of any exports of buffalo on the way out. But that will be a protocol that we'd have to work through if and when that happened. What we are trying to do is make sure this doesn't happen and that's why we're sending resources to Indonesia now to try and make sure that it doesn't spread to Australia. But we've got to be pragmatic. There is a real live risk that we could get it here and that's why we're trying to make sure that if it does hit Australia that we're on the front foot, we identify it immediately, and we contain it and eradicate it, because then that opens up the opportunity to continue to allow exports to continue in geographical areas where those that have it will be isolated. And that's our best hope in keeping export markets open. Any other questions on biosecurity?

QUESTION: The robots that we're about to see. Have we seen them in the Northern Territory before? What's the significance there?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: These are trials. So, effectively, what we were doing previously is we were working on the intelligence of where a container just came from in terms of a load off that shipment, not going back two or three years. What we're now saying is the- we were on working on where they came from and whether there was a risk, and a biosecurity officer would have to open it up and see what was declared inside beforehand. And now what we're doing is, we can have these robots actually go underneath containers and take away work health and safety issues. They'll do a lot of the heavy lifting. They've got thermal imaging. So they'll be able to do a lot more than what we've been able to do previously. But it lifts our scale and capacity of what we've been able to actually inspect and that's an important aspect of this. We've also got a science challenge, that said, because while we can now look through your bags and look through every parcel that comes in, it's very difficult to use 3D x-rays on shipping containers because they're metal. So we've got a science challenge out there at the moment in terms of how do we actually test those containers quicker.
One of the ideas that's come forward is around air testing to get- to put a test inside of the container and get minuscule air particles. And that will be able to tell us whether there's an organic matter in there, a plant matter or an animal and be able to help our biosecurity officers be able to move in quickly and identify where that threat is. So the technology is really where we need to move to. It'll complement, and we'll never walk away from the fact that we're going to need biosecurity officers on the ground or dogs on the ground. Even though there is a robotic dog now that we have trialled. So this trial was for robotic dog and then the one you'll see in a minute was it was about going underneath containers where we would have to put a biosecurity officer. So it's a safety issue, but they're armed with technology that gives them imaging to be able to work out and understand whether there's a threat attached to that container. So this is a big step forward for us, and it'll continue to be those investments in technology.

QUESTION: Some Tiwi and Larrakia traditional owners are taking legal action over Santos's multi-billion dollar Barossa gas project, specifically targeting financiers in South Korea. What's your response to that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's their right. Every Australian has the right to test their rights in the court of law. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have lost their lives defending that right. But obviously the Australian Government and the Northern Territory Government has moved in a direction that they believe that sustainable development of the Beetaloo Basin can take place. That's about creating jobs not just here in the Northern Territory, but for Australians right across the country.
I mean, the Beetaloo Basin is a significant energy source that will reduce our energy costs, but it's also an opportunity for Indigenous Australians to also be employed. So what needs to happen, is we need to respect the processes, not only the court processes but the processes that were put in place in terms of the approvals. And I can tell you as a Queenslander, in Northern Territory you were afforded a much more thorough approval process than what we were in Queensland when the [indistinct] basin where I live was thrust upon us. But can I say, from someone that lives in an Australian basin, that we now have a situation where landholders, Indigenous Australians, gas companies and farmers can live harmoniously together. But that relies on state governments to make sure that their regulatory framework is robust and they continue to make sure that they monitor things like groundwater, in particular, ensuring that there isn't any loss of that, particularly for primary production and human consumption.

QUESTION: Apologies. This one is a Barossa gas project. 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh, sorry, okay. 

QUESTION: Yeah, so it's-

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I mean, the principles apply. I mean, I don't think- let's not complicate this. The principles apply no matter what part of Australia you live in. And I get there's emotion about gas. And there was emotion in the town that I lived in for most of my life, was in Chinchilla. And that emotion has now abated because we have a learnt lived experience of it.

QUESTION: So you're not concerned that legal action could stymie the project?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's always any individual's right to undertake legal action. But what I would say is that the processes that have taken place, whether they be here in the Northern Territory or any other part of the country, are ones that have been longstanding and tested to ensure that environmental processes are taken account, Indigenous Australians' views are taking into account, the general public's views are taken into account. So there is a long, exhaustive process, but obviously legal rights of individuals are also there. That is a premise of our, of our society. Now I would like to see that it gets protracted if it's gone through the proper process, but those individuals have a right to test that process.

QUESTION: Can I ask Jacinta a question? Is that alright?


QUESTION: Jacinta, you've got, obviously, close family ties to Yuendumu in the wake of the Zachary riot- Rolfe trial. We're now seeing debate move into NT Parliament. Is the continued debate, is it having any- is it having harmful effects on the healing of that community? What are you seeing on the ground in the centre at the moment regarding the fallout from the case? 

JACINTA PRICE: Well, clearly, a lot of healing does have to take place. And I think looking at the broader picture, the broader aspect of the entire case is about- for me is about ensuring that the lives of Indigenous children are taken care of, that their human rights are upheld, and that they should be, at an earlier stage in their life, taken care of so that we don't end up with a situation like we do where we have kids on the streets of Alice Springs, young children running around. I mean, these children are the sorts of kids that will end up in a path- their path will either lead to more violence or down the road of being locked up, unfortunately, or even dead. And we can't continue to allow this to happen on our streets at night. So that to me is the most important picture out of all of this.
Young Mr Walker was my family member, and for me, the greatest concern is the lives of these children. To ensure that we don't have a situation like we have had with this particular case, and that starts from the very beginnings of their lives. It starts with families and communities coming together. It starts with state and territory governments ensuring that they're upholding the human rights of Indigenous children. And if they're in dysfunctional circumstances, then they need to be removed from those dysfunctional circumstances and provided better opportunities at life. I don't agree with the argument that it may create another stolen generation. I think that argument is actually what's leading to the demise of more and more Indigenous children. And Indigenous children are Australian citizens like all other children, and we shouldn't be divided along the lines of race. So that has been my greatest concern and the concern of many kids in many communities as a result of this. And we can't begin to heal the situation until all of us, family members, community members, the government- state and territory governments actually uphold the human rights of Australian citizens, Indigenous children, in that case.

QUESTION: The CLP leader in Territory Parliament has called for an independent inquiry into the circumstances leading up to his charges on Constable Rolfe. Do you support that and do you think that would help in that path to the healing?

JACINTA PRICE: Well, I think the investigation would offer some clarification, certainly. I'd have to agree with the Leader of the Opposition in that regard. Some clarification does need to be had for the sake of the wider community. There has been a lot of division as a result of this entire case. I don't agree with the notion that guns should be removed from communities because as we know, in these remote communities, we have the highest rates of domestic and family violence and the victims are the most marginalised. So they're Aboriginal women and children. And until we can lower these rates of domestic and family violence in these communities, I would not support a call to remove guns from communities, especially when there are a lot of weapons within communities that are used with- in terms of domestic and family violence cases. 

QUESTION: Is it something you'd take to the Senate, if you get in, the idea of an independent inquiry?

JACINTA PRICE: Look, I'd have to reassess that at the time. If those calls were continued to be called for by the Leader of the Opposition, that's something that I would consider. But my priority, I think, when going into the Senate is ensuring that we uphold the human rights of Indigenous children throughout this country and victims of domestic and family violence as 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Very good. Thank you.