Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor today announced a package of technical law changes to support the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme.
He said the response to cattle disease M.bovis has highlighted problems in the National Animal Identification and Tracing scheme (NAIT), primarily farmers not registering animal movements and a lack of compliance activities to ensure NAIT’s use.
Changes to the NAIT Act 2012, made under urgency in Parliament this week, will:
• Align the NAIT Act search powers with the Search and Surveillance Act.
• Make it clear that all animal movements must be declared to NAIT, even if the new location is not a registered NAIT location.
• Hold to account those who fail to declare those movements to NAIT.
These changes go no further than providing powers that already exist under other Acts, which allow officers to lawfully obtain information where non-compliance is an issue, the Minister said.
The Government has created three infringement offences under the Animal Products Act 1999 related to non-compliance with certain Animal Status Declaration requirements.
Furthermore, M.bovis is being made a notifiable organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993.
This means people who suspect the presence of the disease in a new location must report it to the Ministry for Primary Industries. Prompt reporting is necessary to eradicate the disease.
“Since getting the NAIT Review in April, compliance activities have been stepped up with hundreds of on-farm checks, compliance warnings, stock truck checks and 39 infringement notices – compared with one in the previous five years,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Today’s legislation marks another meaningful step in bolstering NAIT. We are already implementing nearly two dozen changes that don’t require legislative change, and will revisit NAIT legislation again in coming months after consulting on more changes, including making NAIT easier to use.”
National’s Agriculture spokesperson, Nathan Guy, said some changes to the NAIT legislation were needed, but Parliament had been denied the opportunity to properly scrutinise Government amendments which may not be in the best interests of farmers.
The Minister had had months to introduce the Bill into Parliament, but instead had expanded wide-ranging search powers under urgency, he said.
Among Guy’s concerns, Ministry for Primary Industries officials will be able to turn up on farmers’ properties without getting a warrant and seize anything they want, unannounced and without cause.
National had asked Mr O’Connor to send the Bill to a select committee during the two-week Parliamentary recess to allow public input and ensure there are no unintended consequences for farmers. Guy said the Minister refused.
“National proposed amendments during the debate that an officer needs reasonable cause to suspect non-compliance with NAIT before entering the property,” he said.
“We also proposed that these wide-ranging warrantless powers being curtailed, so a NAIT officer can’t seize property without obtaining a warrant.
“Unfortunately, both of these safeguard amendments were voted down by the Government.”
But National did successfully move an amendment that requires the Minister to report to Parliament next year on how these expanded powers are being used.
National reluctantly supported the legislation to improve NAIT’s performance but remains “gravely concerned about the process and invasion of farmer’s privacy”, Guy said.