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.


Passenger Biosecurity Survey

MPI has released the results of a survey carried out earlier this year, to check its effectiveness at preventing international air passengers from bringing in goods with a high chance of damaging New Zealand’s biosecurity.

It reports that its overall result across all risk goods has improved.

The survey, conducted at Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington airports between 6 May and 21 June, involved checking some 6800 passengers to see if they were carrying goods that pose a biosecurity risk after passing through airport checks.

The survey showed 98.8 percent of passengers who had been through checks were not carrying medium or high-risk goods, including materials that may host fruit fly or serious animal diseases.

The overall compliance result for all risk goods was 96.9 percent. MPI’s target is 98.5 percent.

MPI’s Border Clearance Services Director, Steve Gilbert said the shortfall was mostly due to low-risk items like used equipment, such as footwear contaminated with blades of grass getting past border checks. Last year’s result was 95.3 percent.

The survey report is available at


Red-vented bulbul

The recent “Angry Bird” campaign, to increase awareness of a pest bird in Auckland, has sparked an increase in confirmed public sightings of the red-vented-bulbul, an aggressive Asian species that threatens our crops.

Red-vented bulbuls are known to cause significant damage to fruit and vegetable crops. They are likely to feed on native fruits, berries, insects, flower nectar, seeds and buds, displacing native species such as kereru (native woodpigeon) with their aggressive competitive nature. They may also spread seeds of invasive plants.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has confirmed that red-vented bulbuls are located in three clusters: south Auckland (Manurewa/Alfriston), west Auckland (Henderson/Te Atatu/Massey), and on Auckland’s North Shore (Devonport/Belmont/Takapuna).

There have also been possible sightings on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula about 12 kilometres north of the confirmed North Shore sightings.

The red-vented bulbul is one of the most invasive bird species in the world and in New Zealand is listed as an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993. MPI is working in partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Auckland Council to track down the red-vented bulbuls in Auckland and eradicate them.

“We think there are at least five red-vented bulbuls in Auckland,” says MPI Response Manager Jaap Knegtmans. “It’s difficult to know exactly how many there are because they are quite mobile, moving large distances around the city.”

Red-vented bulbuls are a medium-sized bird about the size of a starling (20 cm in length - body and tail). They have a black head with a slight crest, a dark back, grey-white belly and a distinctive crimson-red patch beneath their tail.

“This red patch is a key identification feature,” said Mr Knegtmans.

“If people have seen a bird with bright red feathers beneath the tail, we urge them to contact MPI on our free Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline - 0800 80 99 66. Taking a photo, if possible, would also be a huge help.”

Red-vented bulbuls also have a very distinctive call, unlike other birds you normally hear around Auckland. Their call can be heard on the MPI website at:

Red-vented bulbuls are found in Asia from Pakistan to southwest China. They have invaded parts of the Pacific, including Hawaii, Fiji and Samoa.

Red-vented bulbuls have been found in Auckland before, in the 1950s and in 2006, and were successfully eradicated on both occasions. It’s believed the red-vented bulbuls now in Auckland arrived on a ship or yacht.

“These birds are aggressive and prolific breeders and we need to remove them before they become established. Continued help from the public is crucial to tracking the birds down and eradicating them.” said Mr Knegtmans.

“It’s vital we get sightings from the public as soon as possible. They’ll become harder to spot as Spring advances and leaves start returning to trees,” said Mr Knegtmans.


Joint Border Management System goes live

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Customs Minister Maurice Williamson launched the Government’s $89 million Joint Border Management System (JBMS) on August 1st.

Importers, exporters, and their agents and brokers, can now submit shipment details electronically to a single point of contact, rather than dealing separately with several government agencies.

“This reduces the duplication of data to border agencies and will speed up processing times,” Mr Guy said.

Customs Minister Maurice Williamson said several pilot partners, responsible for about 60 per cent of all export and import transactions, had played a role in the testing the JBMS.

Mr Williamson said Customs and MPI electronic border systems will be kept running for 18 months, which will allow the cargo industry to choose when to transfer to the new system.


X-ray transfer offers biosecurity boost

In July Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy welcomed the beginning of trials for the use of x-ray images to screen airline baggage before it arrives in New Zealand.

He said the trials are a world-first and involve the transfer of aviation security x-ray images from Melbourne Airport to Auckland for passengers on Air New Zealand flights, while the passenger is on the flight.

“This technology will allow biosecurity staff to assess the x-ray images before the plane touches down. Any bag containing biosecurity risk items will then be matched with the passenger, who will face further scrutiny by officials upon landing,” Minister Guy said.

If the trials are successful, MPI would look to extend the system to other major Australian airports.

In the longer term, x-ray image transfer could be applied to routes with higher biosecurity risk to New Zealand, such as those from South East Asia, parts of Europe and the Pacific.

“MPI currently will continue to use surveys, declaration forms, detector dogs, x-ray screening, and random physical searches to monitor biosecurity risk among air passengers.

“The system could provide another powerful tool for MPI to protect New Zealand from dangerous pests and disease,” Mr Guy said


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