Friday, August 10, 2012

Australian Quarantine Changes

Bondi @ Eastern Creek, 2007

My friend Nick has brought a couple of items to my attention which are very pertinent to those considering moving to Australia with their dog or cat, or returning from travelling abroad with them.

The first news is that from approximately 2015, all quarantine facilities across Australia will be centralised into one station near Tullamarine (Melbourne’s airport). This was announced in May as part of the Federal Government’s budget package. According to this ABC news report:

Five quarantine stations will begin to close from 2015, as plant and animal inspections are consolidated into a single new facility.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has revealed tonight's Federal Budget will contain $380 million for the new quarantine station in Melbourne, which is expected to be up and running in 2015.

As it comes online, the government will begin to close quarantine stations at Eastern Creek in NSW, Knoxfield and Spotswood in Victoria, Byford in WA and Torrens Island in South Australia... also from 2015, as the leases expire.

The questions that spring to mind immediately are:

  1. How are approved routes affected? These are the flights which domestic animals may be transported on from foreign destinations. For carriers who do not go to Melbourne, will this mean reduction in choices and added handling complications as animals are moved from one carrier to another to reach their destination? For most animals – especially those bound for Sydney or Perth, this is an increase in travel time, substantially so for Perth.
  2. What thought has been given to provision of visiting arrangements given that a majority of animals will now have their owners in a different state? Currently animals are only exercised if the owner makes a booking to visit the quarantine station.
  3. What thought has been given to transporting animals and crates back to their destination states? Domestic air transport is extremely expensive, and there are no public transport options such as trains which will accommodate companion animals. NB that transport costs far outweigh quarantine costs when considering an international animal relocation, especially for larger animals.

I’ll be following up on these questions as I can with AQIS (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service), although my experience in recent years is that they have been reluctant to discuss any matters of policy or ambiguity in the wording of policies.

Bondi being exercised at Eastern Creek in 2008

The second note is mostly better news. A recently published Biosecurity Review suggests that the current minimum quarantine period may be lowered from 30 days to 10 days, partly because it shifts treatment of external parasites to 21 days before departure rather than 1 day*. (* See Table 1 on page xvi of the review).

This letter (2pp PDF) invites comments up to 24 September 2012. The full draft review (237pp PDF) has a few items that I’ve sent in comments about. Note when referring to its table of contents that the document page numbers do not match up to file page numbers.

I’ve asked AQIS to clarify section 7.2.1 Importation of dogs from a Group 1 country (ditto 7.3.1 for cats) which states that a government approved veterinarian must certify that the animal “has been continuously resident in an approved Group 1 countr(ies) for a minimum of six months immediately before export”.

When I was returning to Australia with Bondi in 2007 it was necessary to stay in the UK for a full six months prior to departure (which the UK Home Office wasn’t happy about) to meet these requirements. It’s rather ridiculous because since 2005 the removal of border checks and the creation of the European Pet Passport has enabled animals (and humans) to travel through dozens of countries without any documentation of the fact. It would be impossible for a vet in continental Europe to make such a certification. What we have is a “Group 1 Zone” rather than single country, yet this is not recognised by AQIS. I wrote to them at that time but they refused to consider this circumstance.

I note today from their FAQ page a softening of this stance:

What if my cat or dog has travelled to other countries in the 6 months before import into Australia?

You must apply to AQIS for special consideration. With AQIS approval, your cat or dog must then meet the AQIS import conditions for the highest risk country that he/she has visited in the six months prior to import into Australia.

This is not reflected in the proposed new policy, there being just an ambiguous phrase “approved Group 1 countr(ies)” without any follow-up explanation.

I am also concerned about this from the practical stand-point of being able to achieve the best transport options back to Australia given the upcoming changes to quarantine facilities. If you cannot choose a more appropriate airport within Europe (e.g. London) then this may complicate and substantially increase the cost of transport and handling arrangements.

The policy review document acknowledges “an increasing demand from pet owners, both those migrating to Australia with companion animals and those wishing to travel internationally with their companion animals, for a more streamlined and user-friendly biosecurity system for the importation of dogs and cats.” [my underline] Let’s make sure that the user-friendly part isn’t forgotten.


  1. aussienl11:51 pm

    I will be following your blog closely. I too am thinking of returning to australia and have three dogs. I am not happy with the new quarantine station as I will be living in western australia. My concerns are also not only about the inconvenience but the rule of strictly no contact is allowed. this means phone calls as well. Also I feel that if your dog is coming from a non rabies etc country is fully tested negative for disease ( and titre tests are not reliable which is a required for the steps before you leave your country) why is the need for even 10 days? I remember a few years ago you could quarantine your dogs in your own property. Surely for people not living in Victoria they could be tagged and tracked to make sure this is adhered too? Am interested in how things go.

    1. I'm not aware of any provisions for self-quarantining over the period since 2003 when I brought in my first dogs.

      For the most part I'm just relieved that the 30 day period has gone down to 10 days. While dogs may be coming from non-rabies countries there are many other diseases and conditions which are being controlled at import. Introducing or spreading the range of tick-borne diseases like babesiosis would be a terrible thing (Munson nearly died of that in France 5 years ago).