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Hollywood heart throb, Johnny Depp and his then partner, Amber Herd were in the media for the wrong reasons recently for illegally bringing two cute Yorkshire Terrier dogs from Los Angeles into the Gold Coast without first going through screening procedures.

Why was this such a big deal?  One of the reasons was because of the interest of the public in Hollywood actors like Johnny Depp, who was on the Gold Coast for the filming of the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Another reason is that Australia as an island has been fortunate in keeping isolated from many major diseases and health issues afflicting other parts of the world.  Australia as a result of its isolation has many unique flora and fauna which are found nowhere else in the world, yet are highly susceptible should a disease be introduced.

To quote Amber Herd, “Australia is free of many pests and diseases that are common placed around the world.  That is why Australia has to have such strong bio-security laws.”  If you are wishing to bring a dog into Australia from a foreign country, there are nearly 20 steps involved in the screening procedure that can take several weeks to complete.

The steps include obtaining an import permit, testing the animal for various diseases such as Rabies, Internal and External Parasites.  The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is responsible for overseeing the approval process for bringing animals into Australia from overseas.

Early in geological history, Australia was cut off from the rest of the world’s land masses.  This allowed a range of animals to establish successful population in Australia – animals that were unable to do so in other parts of the world.

Almost all of Australia’s native mammals are marsupials, such as the kangaroo, wombat and the loveable koala.  Marsupials give birth to their young and then carry them in a pouch near their belly until the infant is old enough to survive on its own.  A type of marsupial is the monotreme, which lays eggs.  There are only 2 types in the whole world, both found in Australia: the platypus and the echidna.

As for Australia’s unique flora, there are a staggering 24,000 species of native plants.  By comparison, England has only about 1,700 (and Japan has approximately 6,000!) native plants.  It is because of these unique yet highly sensitive animals and plants that there is such high sensitivity to the entrancing into Australia of animals and plants or plant material from other countries, at least not without first going through careful screening procedure.

What is the penalty for non-compliance?  The maximum penalty is ten years in jail.  Although this may seem a harsh penalty, it is in the context of Australia’s desire to keep free from diseases which could have drastic consequences should they arrive on Australian shores, potentially destroying many of the unique animals and plants.

The legal case against Ms Herd was resolved with her agreement to plead guilty to making a false Customs Declaration when she arrived on a private jet into Australia.  This was a lower charge than the charge for illegally importing animals.  As part of the conclusion, Ms Herd paid a fine of $1,000.00 and also made a public apology which has now become an infamous on-line video.

I guess this proves that the protection of unique animals (and plants) is important, more important than the rights of an individual and their loved pets, even if the individual is a Hollywood celebrity, they are not above the law.

Important changes to Australia’s Biosecurity System came into effect on 16 June 2016 with the commencement of the Biosecurity Act 2015.  This includes effect on importers of goods into Australia.  The legislation applies to “Australian territory” which extends 12 nautical miles from the coastline and includes external territories like Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island.

Dogs can be brought from New Zealand so long as accompanied by a health certificate for the animal signed by an official veterinarian not more than 5 days before the animal left New Zealand.

Plus, there are strict controls on dog food being brought into Australia such as needing to be signed-off by government veterinarian certificate from the country where the goods were made.  Dead animals can be imported into Australia if preserved by taxidermy or cremated.

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This Article was written by Mitchell Clark, MBA Partner with helpful contribution by Chris White, Law Clerk.

Mitchell was one of the first Lawyers in Queensland to receive (in 1998) specialist accreditation from the Queensland Law Society in the field of Personal Injuries Law.