Agenda 21

Biosecurity Act 2015 which removes all rights for Australians

The Australian Medical Association is calling on the federal government to revoke the use of the Biosecurity Act on travel from India, and focus on improving hotel quarantine.

AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid told Jim Wilson the organisation supports the pause on flights, but not the criminal punishment of those who do return via other countries.

The Prime Minister’s assertion fines and jail time are unlikely is all the more reason to lift the punishments, Dr Khorshid argued.

“It’s just not a good look.

“If you’re not going to use it, get rid of it, because it sends the wrong message to Australians.

“Unfortunately we’re going to need quarantine for many, many months to come, and probably years the way this pandemic is looking.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia, federal, state and territory governments have introduced expansive measures in attempt to limit the spread the virus.This factsheet provides information on the rights and responsibilities of individuals in relation to these measures in different circumstances, with a focus on measures implemented under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth)
(Biosecurity Act).*
The powers of federal, state and territory governments to impose bans and restrictions on Australians in the event of a biosecurity emergency:

are expansive, with limited review mechanisms available; and
attract significant penalties for non-compliance, meaning that many individuals will have little choice but to adhere to strict measures that will target, amongst other matters, the ability to maintain close physical contact with others.


On 18 March 2020, the Governor-General declared a human biosecurity emergency (the Declaration) pursuant to section 475 of the Biosecurity Act. The Declaration will last for three months unless extended, and grants the Minister for Health broad powers to issue directions and set requirements necessary to prevent or control the entry of, emergence, establishment, or spread of COVID-19 in Australia.

Measures implemented under the Declaration to date have included bans on certain overseas travel and restrictions on cruise ships from entering an Australian port.  It is a criminal offence for a person to intentionally engage in conduct that contravenes a direction or requirement made under the Declaration, attracting a penalty of:

imprisonment for up to five years; and/or
a fine of up to $63,000.

Read the entire Act Biosecurity Act 2015

The Biosecurity Act allows Commonwealth, state and territory biosecurity officers, who are so authorised, to issue a ‘human biosecurity control order’ (control order) in relation to a person who may have a listed human disease, including COVID-19.

A control order can include requirements to:
provide contact information and health details;
restrict behaviour;
undergo risk-minimisation interventions, including medical treatment; and/or
accept isolation from the community for specified periods.

If an individual fails to comply with a control order measure, the consequences may include:
being detained if it is necessary to counteract the significant risk of contagion that the person poses; and/or
being charged with a criminal offence, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and/or a fine of up to $63,000.

Individuals also have the option to not provide consent to a control order. However, where a person refuses to provide consent, the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer may mandate compliance. In relation to measure regarding self-isolation or isolation at a medical facility, or a traveller movement measure, a person who does not consent must comply for the first 72 hours while the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer considers the matter.

There are also opportunities to appeal control order decisions made under the Biosecurity Act. Within seven days from when the decision to give a direction to comply with an isolation or traveller movement measure is made, the individual can apply for:

merits review at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal; and

judicial review under the Administrative Decision (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth).


In addition to control order powers, an area can be declared a ‘human health response zone’ which can impose entry and exit requirements on everyone in a particular zone.

Please click here to download a printable copy of the Bio-security Act 2015 Summary from the AMA

Bio-security Act Background

1. Australia is one of the few countries in the world to remain free from some of the world’s most damaging pests and diseases.1 This status means that Australia and its agriculture industries have a comparative advantage in export markets around the world. The increasing volumes of international travellers and trade from a growing number of countries have the potential to impact on Australia’s ability to protect its economy, environment and human health from exotic pests and diseases.

2. In June 2016, the Australian Government introduced a new biosecurity legislative framework—comprising the Biosecurity Act 2015 (the Act)2, four related Acts and delegated legislation (including regulations, declarations and determinations)—to manage the risk of pests and diseases entering Australian territory and causing harm to animal, plant and human health, the environment and the economy. The new framework, which replaced the arrangements established under the century-old Quarantine Act 1908, is being implemented in three stages over five years, with Stage 1 relating to the period leading up to commencement of the framework on 16 June 2016.

Audit objective and criteria

3. The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ implementation of the new biosecurity legislative framework.

4. To form a conclusion against this objective, the ANAO adopted the following high-level criteria:

  • Was a robust governance and project management framework in place to support implementation of the new framework?
  • Was the development of delegated legislation, administrative practice and business processes, effective and timely?
  • Did the engagement with internal and external stakeholders support the transition to the new framework?


5. The arrangements established by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources effectively supported the implementation of the new biosecurity legislative framework in accordance with legislated timeframes.

6. A sound planning approach, governance structure and assurance review program was established by the department to support the implementation of the biosecurity legislative framework. Nevertheless, issues relating to the delayed establishment of the Board and weaknesses in performance reporting adversely impacted on oversight and monitoring arrangements. While the framework commenced operating on 16 June 2016 as required by legislation, more effective oversight and monitoring would have better positioned the department to deliver framework elements as originally planned. Further, there is scope for the department to review its approach to assessing the benefits to be derived from the new legislative framework.

7. The arrangements established by the department to support the operation of the new biosecurity legislative framework from 16 June 2016, including the development of policy and delegated legislation, creation of instructional material and the delivery of training for staff, implementation of IT system modifications and engagement with stakeholders, were, in the main, effective. There were, however, delays encountered in finalising a number of key activities, which ultimately reduced the time available to deliver important elements of the program, such as aspects of stakeholder engagement and IT system modifications. These delays also led to the reprioritisation of some implementation activities, including instructional material and IT changes, with delivery to occur in latter stages.


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2 thoughts on “Biosecurity Act 2015 which removes all rights for Australians

  1. When did the Australian Parliament authorise the Bio Security Act amendments to override the Australian Constitution? Can I read this in Hansard?

    1. The Biosecurity Act amendments that expanded the powers during a human biosecurity emergency do not technically override the Australian Constitution. Instead, these powers, as provided under the Biosecurity Act 2015, allow the Minister for Health to advise the Governor-General to declare a human biosecurity emergency if a listed human disease poses a severe threat or causes harm on a significant scale. Once declared, the emergency powers can override other Australian laws during the duration of the emergency. This was particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic when such powers were enacted.

      These emergency powers are subject to various controls and limitations, such as requiring that any actions taken must be necessary and proportionate to the threat posed by the disease. Moreover, these powers must be reviewed and can only last for a specified period, typically no longer than three months at a time, though they can be extended if necessary.

      You can indeed read the details of these declarations and discussions in Hansard, which records the debates and proceedings of the Australian Parliament. Additionally, all legislative actions and their justifications are documented and publicly accessible through various official sources like the Parliament of Australia’s website and the Federal Register of Legislation.

      For specific details on the Biosecurity Act and its amendments, you might want to explore official government resources or legal databases that offer comprehensive coverage of the legislative framework and its applications​ (Commonwealth biosecurity powers)​​ (COVID-19 Biosecurity Emergency Declaration)​.

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