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Biosecurity in Australia: The Complete Guide

Beginners Guides

Biosecurity in Australia: The Complete Guide

Biosecurity requirements in Australia are stringent. You must understand them properly to know if you’re importing your cargo in accordance with the rules and regulations.

If you make a mistake, your cargo may fail to meet import requirements. If this happens, and there are no options to rectify the failure onshore in Australia, your goods may be turned back out of the country or destroyed – at your cost.

If you’re looking to comply with Australian biosecurity requirements for your next shipment, this article is for you. Below is our complete guide to biosecurity in Australia.

Biosecurity in Australia: The Key Points

  • Strict biosecurity laws affecting your shipment are enforced by the Department of Agriculture, Water Resources and the Environment.
  • When importing into Australia, check the requirements for your  cargo using the Biosecurity Import Conditions (BICON) system.
  • When entering Australia, your goods may be inspected, and this will generally be at the importer’s expense.
  • If your cargo fails to meet import requirements, your goods may require treatment by an approved third party.
  • If your goods cannot be treated, they may be exported or destroyed – at the importer’s cost.
  • Use a professional freight forwarder to ensure your shipment runs smoothly, without unanticipated costs and delays.

What is biosecurity?

Biosecurity (sometimes called quarantine) refers to government policies implemented to manage the risks of harmful substances entering into the country that pose a threat to human, animal, plant and environmental health.

Strict requirements are in place to ensure the country remains protected from unwanted diseases and pests that may arrive from overseas.

The Department of Agriculture, Water Resources and the Environment (DAWE) are responsible for managing biosecurity threats and risks at the national border.  They administer a set of complex requirements contained in both the Biosecurity Act 2015and the Biosecurity Regulation 2016.

DAWE looks after the meticulous screening, inspection and – ultimately – the clearance of millions of cargo and people that enter Australian territory every year.

The Department also regulates which imports are allowed into Australia, which we’ll explain in detail below.


Why is biosecurity important in Australia?

Biosecurity is critical to ensure Australia is safe from foreign biosecurity threats.

People can easily develop harmful infections from animals, food, water or contact with others while overseas. They may not know it until they’ve returned to Australia.

Diseases such as yellow fever, the plague, human influenza and COVID-19 are specifically categorised as ‘Listed Human Diseases’ in the Biosecurity Act.

You can also view a comprehensive list of the exotic threats facing Australia on the DAWE’s database, including those listed on the National Priority List of Exotic Environmental Pests, Weeds and Diseases and the National Priority Plant Pests list.

Within the last year, DAWE has been working closely with the industry to protect the environment from the spread of COVID-19. The good news is, the Department has not added any extra import restrictions for cargo. They have advised that handling goods from COVID-affected areas is still safe, as the risk of a carrier contaminating commercial goods is quite low.

Nevertheless, it is important to subscribe to DAWE’s import industry advice notices, containing helpful information that may be relevant to your shipment.

Importing to Australia using the Biosecurity Import Conditions (BICON) system

When importing goods into Australia, you’ll need to know:

  • What you can’t import;
  • What you can import;
  • What you can only import with import permits and supporting documentation;
  • What import conditions may be applicable; and
  • What goods require treatment.

You can view all the requirements for any particular import using the Department’s comprehensive Biosecurity Import Conditions system (BICON).

If you do require an import permit, we recommend following the steps in our post to find obtain one prior to importing.

How are my goods inspected and cleared?

The Department will clear cargo arriving in Australia using the declarations and information that the importer has provided to accompany their shipment.

When cargo arrives, it’s critical that you provide all necessary documents that must travel your goods. These are the top 5 shipping documents you will need for import:

  1. Commercial invoiceAfter securing your supplier via a letter of credit, you’ll receive a commercial invoice detailing the price and the amount of the sold goods. This document is required for customs clearance.
  2. Packing ListThe supplier will also provide you with a Packing List, usually given together with your commercial invoice. It will contain vital information such as how your goods will be packed, the cargo weight and dimensions.
  3. Packing Declaration. Only a requirement if your freight is shipped by sea. Customs will need this documentation to identify the packing material of your goods.
  4. Certificate of OriginSuppliers will prepare this document if exporting from a country with a free-trade agreement with Australia.  You’ll be able to avoid duty charges if your supplier provides you this certificate.

The Department will then issue the importer (or their nominated customs broker) with a directive – this could be one the following:

  • The goods are to be released from biosecurity control;
  • The goods must be inspected;
  • The goods must be treated;
  • The goods must be isolated;
  • The goods must be held pending further information; or
  • Any other directive within their power.

What if my goods need to be inspected?


The Department may determine that your goods need to be inspected.

An inspection may occur either when your goods arrive at customs (such as the ocean port of the airport), or an approved third-party site.

Fees will apply where inspections are performed by the Department which are determined by the Department’s Charging Guidelines.

The process is a little different for breakbulk or goods transported without a container – they’re actually inspected as the vessel is unloaded.

Can my goods be randomly inspected?

The Department’s Cargo Compliance Verification Scheme involves random inspections of cargo.

The purpose is to assess if Australia’s biosecurity regime is robust enough, by ensuring importers are complying with all import requirements.

Only through accurate cargo reporting can the department assess the potential biosecurity risk. That’s why some goods are randomly selected for inspection.

What are inspections looking for?

When conducting inspections. The Department is looking for:


Containers arriving in Australia must be free of any biosecurity risk material. This includes items such as soil, plant materials, pests and animal products.

Some of the most worrying pests presenting significant biosecurity threats are giant African snails, Khapra beetles and the Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs.

Top biosecurity threats in Australia found in shipping containers


If you do notice any soil, unexpected pests, plant matter, or anything of the sort, it is critical to secure the area. Once secured, immediately report your findings to DAWE. This can be done via phone 1800 798 636 or via DAWE’s online reporting function.

A proactive step that you can take is to ask your overseas supplier to thoroughly clean the interior of the container prior to loading any cargo.

This will reduce the likelihood of expensive and time-consuming biosecurity treatment on arrival in Australia.

Packaging Material

Import conditions vary depending on the type of packaging material used in your consignment.

Things like plastic and plywood are regarded as ‘permitted packaging materials’ and pose a very low biosecurity risk.  Timber and bamboo packaging and dunnage (loose packaging) are subject to import conditions.

  • All timber packaging in the container and timber dunnage must be treated in an approved method. The mandatory treatment needs to occur in line with ISPM 15 regulations.
  • You must have a packing declaration declaring details of container cleanliness and whether straw and timber have been used as packing materials.
  • The timber must be free of bark.
Biosecurity in Australia: The Complete Guide

Example of ISPM-15 certified timber pallets

Use packing materials such as synthetic foam, plastics, metal frames, inflated dunnage, wood, wool, shredded paper, and other similar materials.

Do not use straw as it is prohibited, or fruit, vegetable, meat or egg cartons, or second-hand bags or sacks. These types of packing materials will be removed and destroyed. Delays will occur and charges apply.

What if my cargo doesn’t comply with biosecurity requirements after an inspection? 

After an inspection, DAWE may direct further treatment to be performed.

These treatments are performed by approved third parties, and may include:

  • Heat treatments;
  • Steam cleaning;
  • Fumigation;
  • Seed cleaning; and
  • Gamma radiation.

If goods do not meet import requirements, and cannot be treated, they will likely be directed for export or destruction – all at the importer’s expense.

Case study: snails stop import of Mercedes Benz

In 2019, a shipment of 900 Mercedes-Benz cars worth over $50 million was directed by the Department to leave Australia.

The reason?

A number of rare snails – known as Heath snails – were discovered on the cargo.

These snails originated in South-Eastern Europe and were known to have populations in Canada and the United States. They had never been seen in Australia before. The Department said the snails were potentially deadly to local flora and fauna and therefore had no option but to turn away the cargo.


What can you do to stay compliant?

To avoid quarantine as much as possible, it’s vital that you provide all necessary documentation to your customs broker or the Department in a timely manner.

If your cargo has associated biosecurity requirements – such as the need for import certification – it is crucial this is organised prior to shipping.

At International Cargo Express, we can help you manage your biosecurity obligations and guide you through the import process.

Our team of professional freight forwarders and customs brokers are able to advise you on all issues related to biosecurity in Australia and how it may affect your import.

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or call us on 1300 227 461

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