NPBSS – Introduction

Australia’s biosecurity system is complex and extensive, with activities in place internationally (pre-border or offshore), along our coastline and at our border (airports, seaports, mail centres), and within Australia (also called onshore or post-border). These three elements—pre-border, border and post-border, come together in what is known as the biosecurity continuum (Figure 1).

Plant health surveillance (also called plant biosecurity surveillance) is a fundamental component of the national biosecurity system and plays an important role at all stages of the biosecurity continuum. The main aim of plant health surveillance is to look for plant pests and weeds to determine their presence or absence from an area so that appropriate management actions can be taken. This includes plant pests and weeds that are known to be present and those that are not yet present in the country, state, region or property.

Surveillance activities within the national plant health surveillance system can be undertaken by a wide range of stakeholders including governments, plant industries and the community. All work is guided by the National Plant Biosecurity Surveillance System Framework provided in Appendix 1. Activities under the national framework work together to achieve five key objectives:

  • Early warning: Shows where new biosecurity measures are required to prevent the arrival or spread of plant pests and weeds, with surveillance along high-risk pathways being a priority.
  • Early detection: Finding a new plant pest or weed incursion or outbreak early, before it has a chance to become established and spread.
  • Plant pest status/area freedom: Collecting surveillance data on the presence or absence of plant pests and weeds demonstrates to other countries that they can safely buy our produce. This is known as ‘evidence of absence’ and is critical to support market access both within Australia and overseas.
  • Delimiting (or delimitation surveillance): The ability to define where plant pests and weeds are present and absent to ensure the boundaries of a pest’s distribution can be defined. This is very important during an eradication response.
  • Monitoring established pests: This includes surveillance for plant pests and weeds that are already here and is usually driven by the need to make decisions on pest management.

Figure 1. Australia’s Biosecurity continuum

Types of surveillance

Surveillance programs may include the following types of surveillance:

  • Specific surveillance is described as the gathering of information on plant pests and weeds through an active process targeting specific plant pests and weeds over a defined period of time. Such activities demonstrate which plant pests and weeds are present or absent in a region and are typically highly structured, with records captured on pests and host targets, date, location, pest levels (including pest absence).
  • General surveillance is described as the gathering of information on plant pests and weeds through activities such as reports from members of the public, and monitoring undertaken by growers, researchers and government bodies. General surveillance activities can vary significantly in their structure and the detail of information collected.

While both types of surveillance can provide valuable information on the presence or absence of plant pests and weeds, the structured nature of specific surveillance often provides a higher overall level of confidence. However, specific surveillance can also incur substantial costs and for this reason will often be limited in duration and/or area.

In contrast, general surveillance can be more flexible and integrate with existing practices at the farm or community level. The confidence provided by general surveillance occurs through the large coverage and potentially large quantity of data collected. As a result, general surveillance data provided by plant industries, governments and urban and peri-urban communities can contribute to an overall evidence of absence.

Achievements under the 20132020 strategy

The 2021-2031 strategy is preceded by the 2013-2020 strategy. That strategy identified requirements to promote greater participation for plant pest surveillance activities and supported improved coordination, consistency, and optimisation of surveillance efforts.

Implementation of the 2013-2020 strategy was led by SNPHS and guided significant improvements in the national biosecurity system. These included the establishment of a national surveillance network, development of standards for data collection and surveillance activities, and initiation of partnership programs between plant industries and government. Some of these achievements included:

  • The PSNAP[1] was established to provide a mechanism for surveillance stakeholders in plant industries and government to connect and share surveillance information
  • The national data aggregation system, AUSPestCheck™, was developed to assist, connect and coordinate surveillance data systems across Australia
  • MyPestGuide was developed as a tool to support and encourage surveillance in urban and peri-urban communities or other specific surveillance programs as required
  • National Minimum Dataset Specifications and Pest Record Specifications were developed to promote consistency in data collected through surveillance
  • The Reference Standard for National Surveillance Protocols (NSPs) was developed to improve documentation of surveillance methods and consistency of surveillance efforts
  • A surveillance prioritisation process was developed for the identification of national priority plant pests or groups of pests
  • A general surveillance framework was developed to better define general surveillance and to improve the level of confidence
  • Surveillance strategies for the citrus, forest, grains and tropical fruit industries have been developed to ensure that activities are organised and target the plant pests of greatest concern
  • The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program was established to detect new incursions of exotic bee pests and pest bees.


While significant activity has occurred over the last decade to strengthen the national plant health surveillance 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[2][3][4][5]. 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 and weeds, agricultural expansion and intensification, increased urbanisation and changing land uses[6]. In conjunction with these increasing challenges and trends, there is an ongoing competition for resources across the plant health surveillance system.

All these factors have combined to place significant pressure on the ability of surveillance stakeholders to meet their biosecurity responsibilities, national biosecurity obligations and respond to new and emerging pest risks and pathways.

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 demonstrate freedom from plant pests, driving improvements in surveillance at a national, regional and property level.

Fundamental to address this need will be a renewed focus to ensure Australia has the people, resources, infrastructure, policies, standards and tools to provide for the highest-quality surveillance delivery.

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 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 consultation with a wide range of plant health surveillance stakeholders including:

  • plant biosecurity and environment representatives in Australian, state and territory governments
  • plant industry bodies
  • research and development corporations
  • research bodies
  • local government authorities
  • environmental groups
  • community groups and
  • growers.

Direction and advice to inform development of the strategy was provided by the Surveillance Strategy Working Group (SSWG) of the Subcommittee on National Plant Health Surveillance (SNPHS). The SSWG included membership from PHA and the Australian, state and territory governments.

Members of the SSWG and the list of organisations/groups engaged are provided in Appendix 2 – Stakeholder consultation.

[1] The PSNAP 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.

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

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

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

[6] 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