QUARANTINE: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
EI inquiry flags major changes to horse quarantine
, March 29, 2008
The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) facilities should be subject to regular external audits conducted by a specially-appointed inspector-general with veterinarian qualifications, writes Peter Westmore.The commission of inquiry into last year's equine influenza outbreak has flagged that it is considering a major review of Australia's quarantine arrangements with regard to importation of horses, and an organisational overhaul of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), as well as the facilities it operates for imported horses.
In a document called "Exposure recommendations", released on March 4, the commissioner, former High Court judge Ian Callinan, has suggested that "the role of quarantine with regard to the importation of horses is an important policing role which should not as a general proposition be privatised".
To give effect to his recommendations, the commissioner has also asked for submissions on whether there should be an external auditor appointed to oversee the importation of horses into Australia, to be known as the inspector-general of horse importation.
The inspector-general, a qualified veterinarian, will have authority to conduct regular inspections of all AQIS facilities involved in horse importation, as well as inspection of pre-export quarantine facilities overseas, and to oversee the work of every Commonwealth employee and the work instructions and standard operating procedures used in connection with the import and quarantine of horses.
The inspector-general will report annually to the parliament and, whenever required, to the Minister for Agriculture.
Separately, the commissioner is considering the appointment of a new section of AQIS to manage horse imports, under the management of a government quarantine veterinarian for horse importation. The post will be held by a qualified veterinarian, who will report directly to the executive director of AQIS.
The commissioner is considering a recommendation that the present management of horse imports "is over-elaborate and has resulted in an absence of responsibility and accountability for and compliance with procedures concerning the importation of horses".
The new section will include all AQIS employees involved in the importation of horses, including those responsible for the certification of pre-export quarantine premises overseas, the imposition of import conditions, the issuing of import permits, the management of certification prior to embarkation to Australia, the clearance of horses and their handlers upon arrival at an Australian airport or port, the decontamination of horse stalls and biosecurity at airports and ports, transfer of horses to the quarantine station, supervision of horses within AQIS quarantine stations, and the review and accreditation of private quarantine facilities.
Additionally, the parts of quarantine stations that are dedicated to horse imports will be staffed and operated by the section of AQIS under the control of the government quarantine veterinarian for horse importation.
Mr Callinan is also considering a further tightening up of quarantine measures (which were improved after the EI outbreak), including the establishment of improved quarantine facilities at Sydney Airport, and the cessation of horse imports into Tullamarine until a suitable facility is constructed there.
Mr Callinan also raised the question of a major reorganisation of AQIS quarantine stations to ensure that there are separate horse quarantine facilities within each station, and that this facility will be completely secure and have a 24-hour security guard whenever horses are in quarantine.
Additionally, he asked whether there should be a single pedestrian exit and entrance to each facility, and a single vehicle entrance and exit, each with appropriate disinfection facilities for both people and vehicles.
The commissioner is considering a proposal for 24-hour closed circuit TV at all hazard points within these facilities, with disinfection facilities and strict conditions of entry and exit from the facility.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Mr Tony Meagher, has called for further submissions by March 26 into the horse flu outbreak, with particular reference to the role of AQIS and Biosecurity Australia in the outbreak.Accountability
He has invited interested parties to make submissions on a range of issues, including "whether there was dysfunction or departure from good administrative practice in the administration of AQIS including in training, risk assessment, statements of duties, the promulgation, acceptance of responsibility, division of responsibility, advising of the Minister and maintenance of clear lines of accountability".
In relation to the policies and procedures implemented by Biosecurity Australia and AQIS, Mr Meagher has asked for submissions on whether they were adequate to meet the biosecurity risk to Australia posed by the importation of live horses, and whether any failures in those procedures contributed to the horse flu outbreak.
The commission of inquiry is due to report to the new Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, by the end of April 2008. Its report will be eagerly awaited.- Peter Westmore