NPBDS – Introduction

Australia’s biosecurity system relies on fast and accurate identification of plant pests, especially where these may be exotic or significant, trade sensitive established pests.

The capacity to diagnose a plant pest is an essential component of Australia’s biosecurity system across the biosecurity continuum encompassing pre border, border, and post border activities. This underpins pre border certification programs, border inspection and quarantine programs, as well as post border eradication programs and many of the everyday management practices involved in the production and trade of plants and plant products.

A strong national plant biosecurity diagnostic system is essential to the delivery of plant pest diagnostics services. The following four components have been identified as necessary for the whole diagnostic system to operate and deliver the best performance[1][2]:

  1. Collections, consisting of specimens and other material for reference, vouchering, teaching, providing genetic material, producing images, recording variation and anchoring names to attributes of organisms (using the concept of type specimens).
  2. Human capability, being a store of undocumented experience and expertise.
  3. Information contained in images, policies, standards, diagnostic protocols, gene sequences and systematic publications, on-line keys and other taxonomic resources.
  4. Interactions and linkages between the other three components necessary for the whole system to work together.

Achievements under the 20122020 strategy

Activities to support the strengthening of the national plant biosecurity diagnostic system were supported by the 2012-2020 strategy. That strategy set out the recommendations and actions necessary to ensure Australia had the people, infrastructure, standards and tools to deliver diagnostic services. It also established an important foundation for the continued reform and improvement of the national plant biosecurity diagnostic system.

Implementation of the 2012-2020 strategy was led by SPHD and guided significant improvements in the national biosecurity system. Specific achievements included:

  • The NPBDN was established and has grown to more than 500 members across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific nations
  • A NPBDN coordinator[3] was appointed in 2019 to promote communication and facilitation of activities within the NPBDN
  • Over 300 NPBDN members from more than 30 different organisations have built connections and shared information at the nine Annual Diagnosticians’ Workshops held since 2012
  • More than 50 NPBDN members have gained essential skills and knowledge through the Diagnostic Residential Program since the first round of the program in 2012
  • Over 30 pest or technique specific training workshops have been held to provide NPBDN members with core skills to support their work
  • More than 40 NDPs for plant pests have been endorsed through SPHD, with over 80 NDPs under development
  • A new policy was developed to improve the import of High Priority Pests positive control material for diagnostic tests
  • Eight rounds of the National Plant Health Proficiency Testing Program have been completed since 2012, with high levels of diagnostic performance achieved in participating NPBDN laboratories
  • The number of NPBDN laboratories having NATA accreditation for the delivery of specific diagnostic tests has increased from 4 to 6
  • The National Plant Pest Reference Collections Strategy and implementation plan were developed to ensure biological collections continue to support Australia’s trade and biosecurity
  • A revised NPBDN website was launched to improve communication with NPBDN members and assist in pest identification.


While significant activity has occurred over the last decade to strengthen the national plant biosecurity diagnostic system, a range of existing, emerging, and growing challenges are increasing the threat of biosecurity risks.

These include factors such as globalisation, international and interstate movement, climate change, tourism and the increasing volume of goods moved[4][5][6][7]. Further compounding these challenges is a number of other trends including the emergence of new plant pests and new pathways (such as online retailers), the shifting geographic spread of existing plant pests, agricultural expansion and intensification, increased urbanisation and changing land uses[8]. In conjunction with these increasing challenges and trends, there is an ongoing competition for resources across the national plant biosecurity diagnostic system.

All these factors have combined to place significant pressure on the ability of diagnosticians to meet their biosecurity responsibilities.

At the same time, overseas markets for primary produce are becoming more competitive as trading partners strengthen their own biosecurity systems and requirements. Consumer preferences and expectations for information on food safety and quality are driving a greater need to ensure production systems are ethical, effective and safe. Part of these expectations include a growing need to maintain Australia’s favourable biosecurity status over the next decade and into the future through faster and more accurate diagnoses.

Fundamental to this is a renewed focus to ensure Australia has the people, resources, infrastructure, policies, standards and tools to provide delivery of plant pest diagnostic services.

This strategy focuses on addressing these challenges over the next ten years through provision of a long‑term policy focus, coupled with a process of regular of regular monitoring, review and reporting against the goals and actions. The strategy aims to remain agile and responsive to the changing and demanding biosecurity environment expected over the next decade.

Consultation and development

This strategy has been developed through consultations with a wide range of plant biosecurity diagnostic stakeholders including:

  • Australian, state and territory governments
  • research and development corporations
  • research bodies
  • universities and
  • museums.

Direction and advice to inform development of the strategy was provided by SPHD and the Strategy Advisory Group. Members of the Strategy Advisory Group and the list of organisations engaged are provided in Appendix 1 – Stakeholder consultation.

[1] Hodda M, Van Der Schyff G, Welsh L (2017b) Enhancing Diagnostic Capability for Priority Pests: Collections and Capability audit. CSIRO, Canberra

[2] Merriman P (2012) Decline of Australian Agricultural experts in plant industries: causes & retrieval. Agricultural Science 24 (2), 18-22.

[3] The NPBDN Coordinator is based within Plant Health Australia and was initially funded in 2018-2019 by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment for a period of two years.

[4] CSIRO 2014, Australia’s biosecurity future: preparing for future biological challenges, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Canberra.

[5] Grafton, Q, Mullen, J & Williams, J 2015, Australia’s agricultural future: returns, resources, and Risks, final report for the Australian Council of Learned Academics, Melbourne.

[6] Hajkowicz, S & Eady, S 2015, Rural industry futures: Megatrends impacting Australian agriculture over the coming twenty years, report prepared for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.

[7] Cope, R, Ross, J, Wittmann, T, Prowse T & Cassey, P 2016, Integrative analysis of the physical transport network into Australia, PLOSONE.

[8] Craik, W., Palmer, D. & Sheldrake, R. 2017, Priorities for Australia’s biosecurity system: An independent review of the capacity of the national biosecurity system and its underpinning Intergovernmental Agreement, prepared for the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Canberra, Australia. Available at