Bringing plants into Australia: Some “import”-ant reminders

By Gabrielle Stannus

BEFORE YOU IMPORT …

Under the Biosecurity Act 2015, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) is responsible for managing the pest and disease risks associated with goods, containers, aircraft and ships arriving in Australia.

Before importing any plant or plant material into Australia, firstly check DAWR’s Biosecurity Imports Conditions system (BICON) as to what import conditions may apply to that species and whether an import permit is required. BICON houses the Australian Government's biosecurity import conditions database for more than 20,000 plants, animals, minerals and biological products. For example, you will find the latest conditions applying to the importation of known Xylella fastidiosa hosts.

Before you import any material check that it will be able tolerate any treatment that is required, for example hot water treatment, and that it will survive the transport process. Some species are more tolerant than others. Also investigate through the import case if any alternative treatment options are available. For example, methyl bromide treatment can be applied across a range of temperatures and exposure periods.

Nursery stock (live plants)
If you are planning to import nursery stock (live plants), including tissue culture, budwood, bulbs, bare-rooted plants and cuttings, to Australia, you must complete the Import notification – nursery stock form and return it to DAWR before its arrival in Australia.

Tissue culture
Tissue culture free of media can only be imported from DAWR-approved sources and the importer must hold a valid import permit.

Phalaenopsis spp.
Phalaenopsis spp. nursery stock can be imported into Australia either as nursery stock other than tissue cultures, or as tissue cultures. Phalaenopsis spp. nursery stock (other than tissue cultures) from a non-approved source are subject to biosecurity measures onshore in Australia, unlike those from high health, approved sources in Taiwan.

New plants
If you want to import a species of plant that is not already listed in BICON, you will need to complete a New plant introduction form. This applies to whole plants, seeds, tissue cultures, cuttings and bulbs. Seeds cannot be imported until DAWR has developed import conditions for the species, a process which the department does not guarantee it will do.

Plants for research
If you are applying for a permit to import plant research material into Australia, you may have to complete a Plant research material questionnaire. This includes seeds, plants, fresh and dried plant material and infected plant samples, as well as plant pathogens, root nodulating bacteria (Rhizobia), Biological Control Agents (BCAs) and Drosophila.

Products that are applied to soils and plants
An import permit is required for all plant-based fertilisers, potting mixes and soil conditioners. Geotextiles for bioremediation do not require an import permit but are subject to inspection on arrival. If importing fertiliser, the manufacturer of the product must also complete a production questionnaire. Special conditions also apply to coir peat, peat and biodegradable plant pots. Click here for more information.

Seeds for sowing
Some seeds require an import permit to enter Australia, including all seeds that are genetically modified (GM) or derived from GM plants. Those seeds requiring an import permit that arrive in the country without one will be directed for export from Australian territory or required to be destroyed in an approved manner. Some seed consignments will also require a phytosanitary certificate issued by the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) of the exporting country.

Cut flowers and foliage
To import cut flowers and foliage to Australia, an import permit is not usually required. However you must comply with conditions set by DAWR before you arrive. Your goods will be inspected on arrival in Australia and may require further treatment, export or destruction if they do not meet the conditions.

PREPARING FOR IMPORT

Biosecurity is a dynamic issue and there are constant changes internationally as pest threats and pressures evolve. BICON users are updated in changes to permit cases that they are registered but there is also an alert listing which you can check.

Packing goods
Before your goods leave the country of export, they should be packaged and treated to meet Australia’s import requirements, i.e. be free from soil, weed seed or animal faecal and other contaminants. Ensure as well that plant material is packaged in a way so that it is not damaged during transport; for example, overcrowding of containers with tissue culture may result in abrasive damage or water soaking. Signs of pest and disease or what can be perceived as pest or disease symptoms will slow down or prevent processing at the border.

Sending goods
When planning to send your goods, you must ensure that the airport or seaport of first arrival is approved to land your cargo. You are also required to provide information to DAWR and to the Department of Home Affairs about your goods.

Arrival of goods in Australia
DAWR biosecurity officers conduct inspections of containers that come into the country on what DAWR has assessed to be higher risk pathways for pests and diseases. Goods arriving from high risk ports or destined for unpack in rural areas require increased inspection.

Clearance and inspection of goods
DAWR will inform the importer if any inspection and treatment actions are required before goods can be released from biosecurity control; e.g. isolation, hold pending further information or insect identification.

Some plants and/or plant material may require treatment either before shipment or on arrival in Australia using methods specified by DAWR. Some high risk species will require a period of growth and screening at an appropriate approved arrangement site or the Commonwealth Government’s post-entry quarantine (PEQ) facility.

OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE IMPORTER

Fees and charges
DAWR charge fees for their importation services and activities., including but not limited to assessment and/or inspection of goods upon arrival in the country, husbandry and audit services.

Full details of these charges and how they are applied can be found in DAWR’s charging guidelines.

If you have any questions about the fees and levies charged by the department, you can call 1800 900 090 or email cost.recovery@agriculture.gov.au.

Penalties for not complying
Failure to comply with DAWR-administered legislation can result in penalties, including large fines or imprisonment.

Reporting biosecurity incidents
If you are a person in charge of goods subject to biosecurity control, you are required by law to inform DAWR of any reportable biosecurity incidents you become aware of in relation to those goods. A report can be made by calling 1800 798 636 or by completing the online Reportable Biosecurity Incident form.

Declaring goods
As well as complying with all DAWR regulations and procedures, you must also declare any goods that are worth more than $1,000 in value arriving in Australia to the Department of Home Affairs.

GETTING MORE HELP

First time importing?
DAWR strongly recommends that first time or infrequent importers use the services of a licensed customs broker. To find a customs broker, search online or in your local Yellow Pages.

Still have questions?
If you have further questions about import conditions and permits, please contact DAWR’s Imports team as follows:


Making a suggestion, compliment or complaint
If you would like to provide feedback on your interactions with DAWR, e.g. make a complaint, you can:

NGIA remains engaged with DAWR to continue dialogue around importing and exporting ensuring that the best outcomes are achieved for industry whilst maintaining and supporting our country’s enviably strong biosecurity position.