[ASC-media] Media release: Massive foreign takeover bid foiled

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Thu Dec 21 00:42:02 CET 2006

Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management 

Media Release 06/17				 			21 December 2006

Massive foreign takeover bid foiled

The federal Government and Australian scientists have foiled a massive foreign takeover bid of the Australian landscape. In a chess move with parallels to the game being played out by international equity funds and the Qantas takeover bid, the ending of a virtual free-for-all in the import of risky foreign plants effectively blocks further bids by new foreign weeds to invade our farms and bushland.

CEO of the Weeds Cooperative Research Centre, Dr Rachel McFadyen, said yesterday that the completion of the 'permitted seeds list review' by the Commonwealth agency Biosecurity Australia was a major breakthrough for biosecurity in this country.

"Closing the door on these risky foreign imports was long overdue, and will deliver huge benefits to agriculture and the natural environment", she said. 

"Allowing half the plants on Earth to be imported with no risk assessment - the situation we had before this review - was unsustainable and unjustifiable. In fact it was total folly, given the chaos, expense and degradation caused by foreign weeds in Australia", she said.

"We know that invasion by foreign weeds already costs our economy $4 billion every year - that's worth many new schools and hospitals, and tens of thousands of jobs", she said.

"The invasion has also had a devastating impact on the Australian environment, as anyone aware of long-term changes to our landscapes and vegetation can see", she said.

Dr McFadyen pointed to a Weeds CRC report published in 2006 on the impact of weeds on biodiversity in NSW, showing how weeds were a threat to 45% of the plant and animal species reviewed. In particular, weeds were placing serious pressure on the state's 419 listed threatened species, and the situation was slowly worsening.

"We simply don't have the data for other states, but we have no reason to believe the situation is any better elsewhere in Australia."

Dr McFadyen said that the review by Biosecurity Australia was an excellent first step in trying to ensure that the annual $4 billion national weed bill did not blow out further through the foolish import of foreign plants that are known to be high risk weeds.

"We had a situation previously where close relatives of blackberry, bridal creeper and serrated tussock, for example, three of Australia's worst weeds, could be imported with no checks or assessment of their risk."

Biosecurity Australia deserve full recognition and the thanks of future generations for tackling this loophole, said Dr McFadyen. "It will give our farmers and the natural environment a real break", she said.

Dr McFadyen pointed to a new paper published this week in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that holds up the Australian plant quarantine system as a model the US might consider adopting. The paper, by Dr Reuben Keller and Professor David Lodge from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, reviewed the Australian system, noted that it had an accuracy of nearly 90%, and that it produced a real net economic benefit to Australia.

"This recognition is a credit to Australian science and its contribution to sensible policy making that protects our economy and environment", Dr McFadyen said.

However, Dr McFadyen said that Australia had already imported over 27,000 foreign plants in the last 200 years, compared to the 18,000 known native species, and 2,700 of these imports had already gone wild. 

Over 400 of these imports are already declared weeds, and we can expect many more of the 2,700 out there that are quietly reproducing right now to emerge as major weed problems in future. 

"Climate change is going to change all the rules and settings", Dr McFadyen said. "Our fear is that many of these foreigners will find conditions change to their advantage and allow them to spread as major weeds."

"The risk of foreign takeover bids has not retreated, but just morphed."

"The challenge remains for the community to get weed aware", she said. "We can all help by not buying and planting risky species, and not moving them and their seeds around these holidays as we travel."

For the Biosecurity Australia statement on the completion of this project, see
www.daff.gov.au, go to Biosecurity Australia, then under 'Current Topics', see 
'Permitted Seeds List'.

Dr Rachel McFadyen, CEO, Weeds CRC, 0409 263 817
Peter Martin, Weeds CRC, 0429 830 366

Images of weeds are available from Rita at rita.reitano at adelaide.edu.au
CRC web site: www.weeds.crc.org.au 

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