Have we gone soft on the border?

Speech to NZ Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science Biosecurity Forum by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy on 12 July.


Before I start I’d like to comment on the title of this conference - Have we gone soft at the border?

I was advised that it would be a ‘courageous’ move to speak at a conference with such a title. But given the importance to me of biosecurity, I saw this event as more of an opportunity than a challenge.

I do want to challenge the title for two reasons. Firstly, I believe it takes too simplistic an approach to addressing how effective our biosecurity system is.

A world class biosecurity system is not about how many people are standing guard at our borders. It takes effect across a number of stages from pre-border to at-border to post-border.

All of these facets of the system need to be strong and need to be regularly reviewed for improvements.

The second reason is that I look out into this room and see some of the best experts in this field, like Dr Stephen Goldson who has been a big contributor on my Biosecurity Ministerial Advisory Committee. It is not too often you get a chance like this. I see great potential for this room to constructively advise me on How we can improve our Biosecurity System.

New Zealand is a trading nation. We live off our exports, but equally we are dependent on a range of imports.

We are also a nation that relies heavily on primary sector exports. These make up 72% of New Zealand’s overall merchandise exports.
Part of the success of our exports is down to New Zealand’s international reputation. And a key part of that reputation is our strong biosecurity system and our relatively pest-free status.

The challenge for me, and for you here today, is how we continue to facilitate and grow trade, yet continue to protect New Zealand from unwanted pests.

It can’t be a choice between these two goals. We have to do both.

The main point I want to make today is that there will always be risk of an unwanted pest being introduced to New Zealand. It is simply impossible to eliminate all risk.

Even if we completely stopped all trade to and from New Zealand, even if we halted all movement of people in and out of New Zealand – something I’m sure no one in this room wants - we would still not completely eliminate all risk.

So the question is how we best manage this risk.

To illustrate our challenge let me provide some context - around 175,000 items come across our border each day, and we receive around 10 million travellers a year.

It is simply not possible, for example, to do an exhaustive search of every item in every container in every consignment that arrives in New Zealand.

So what we need to do, and what MPI do, is to work smartly to manage risk at every level of the biosecurity system and to provide the best level of protection.

I have made it clear to MPI that biosecurity is my number one priority. I expect a high level of attention to be paid at every aspect of the system, and MPI is dedicated to making sure that New Zealand continues to have a world class biosecurity system.

Minister Guy used the rest of this speech to provide an over view of what his Ministry is doing to improve New Zealand biosecurity:

He mentioned funding has not been cut for biosecurity. He noted the decrease of staff over the last five years has averaged in the order of 1.9% per annum. He said the largest factor in this reduction was the global financial crisis, which reduced trade, meaning less products and people come across the border so less people are needed to check them. He said MPI is in the process, of bolstering its staff as trade increases. He said MPI’s biosecurity detector dog programme has expanded. He said every international passenger who comes through New Zealand airports undergoes a form of biosecurity screening allowing MPI staff to focus resources on high-risk rather than the low-risk passengers. He said managing outbreaks of significant animal disease, in particular foot and mouth, remains a high priority.