FTA interview with Andrew Metcalfe AO Secretary (Designate) DAFF

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I recently had the privilege of being invited to an informal briefing with industry colleagues to meet Andrew Metcalfe AO as the new Secretary (Designate) Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and members of his senior executive management team.

The key message delivered by Andrew is that he has a genuine desire to maintain a close working relationship with industry representatives to meet ongoing challenges of minimising biosecurity risks whilst facilitating the movement of international trade.

In a follow-up interview, FTA gained more detail about Andrew's background and an insight to his position on some key issues.


1. PAUL ZALAI -Thank you for agreeing to participate in an interview for the benefit of FTA subscribers. By way of background, can you please tell us about yourself and your interests.

I have been in the public service now for more than 30 years, spent in Canberra, interstate offices and overseas posts, but my family ties are rural and that has given me a strong interest in agriculture and the rural sector more generally.

I grew up in Toowoomba in Queensland and spent many school holidays on farms with my extended family.

My uncle was an agricultural scientist who headed the CSIRO's operations at Narrabri for many years conducting research into the cotton industry. I visited there as part of my DAFF familiarisation tour this year. It was great to spend time at the facility now run by NSW DPI and CSIRO where my uncle worked and to see some of the cotton varieties that he bred in his time there.

My wife, Jenny also has a strong background in that part of the country. She grew up on a sheep station near Charleville, which is now the local vet in Charlevillle – so as a family we still have close rural ties.

I now have a small farm near Sutton, just out of Canberra, but we have had to move into Canberra so that my daughter could attend school. I plan to return to Sutton in the next couple of years.

2. PAUL ZALAI - At our recent briefing you touched on some of your professional history. This highlighted that you have had a long and successful career in public administration culminating in your recognition with the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2012. What career highlights are you most proud of achieving?

I have spent most of my 33-year career in Immigration. That's where I began, as a graduate, in Canberra. Not long after that I moved up to the Brisbane office to be closer to Jenny, and from there had many different roles.

My other significant roles have been in the Minister's office and as a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

I am very proud of the work done by Immigration, and exceptionally proud of the changes we managed to make in the department after I took over as Secretary seven years ago. There had been some significant issues, all of which are part of the public record. We were able to make some significant shifts in the culture of the department over this period. Immigration is now a more confident, people-focussed organisation that rises every day to the challenges it faces.

Being appointed to my role in DAFF has also been a high point for me, given my strong personal interest in the portfolio.

3. PAUL ZALAI - In your previous role in immigration you were able to achieve significant reforms. Do you see the need and opportunities to initiate reforms within DAFF.

I have come to a well-run, capable and highly-skilled organisation. It does not have the issues that Immigration had when I began there as Secretary.

DAFF still faces challenges though, and there are still changes and improvements to be made if we are to meet them. We are facing a global debate about food security, we have to manage a challenging climate, and we need to deal with a significant increase in our imports and exports across our borders.

DAFF has been positioning itself well, but there is much more to be done. Some good work has taken place in looking at our service-delivery models, but we need to take ourselves further toward the path of becoming a truly service-delivery focused organisation. We need better infrastructure and systems.

We have significant legislative responsibilities, and we need to see how we can best manage those – especially with the expectation that we will soon have new legislation to cover our biosecurity functions.

DAFF does wide ranging and significant work that touches all Australians. We need to be better at talking about our work and explaining its relevance, so over the next few months I will be looking closely at how we communicate to the public and to our stakeholders.

I also want to see our policy development better-positioned to face the future in line with the Asian Century whitepaper. Our need, as a Department, to bring perspectives together and to produce credible, workable future-thinking policy has led me to announce recently to DAFF that we will be establishing a Strategic Policy Branch led by an experienced senior executive.

This Branch will focus on the big themes in our work across agriculture, fisheries and forestry and take a long term view. I am working now to design this role. 


In biosecurity, we will build on the good things that have already taken place to improve the business. The focus will be on getting better compliance and better biosecurity outcomes while minimising the impact on trade.

 4. PAUL ZALAI - The Beale Report highlighted the need for "managed bio-security risk" recognising that "zero risk" is realistically unattainable. What major achievements have been made in this regard post the Beale Report and what areas require further attention?

DAFF has done a huge amount since the publication of the Beale review.  An obvious change has been to remove mandatory inspections of 100 per cent of sea and air cargo containers, high volume low value air cargo and arriving international vessels. The risk and evidenced-based approach, now in place has seen a massive reduction in the level of intervention.  This has sped up the movement of goods and reduced costs to trade and logistics industries but has not compromised our biosecurity.

DAFF has also amended reduced inspection levels for many commodities where the risk was assessed as being lower.  Importers who have a very good compliance history for their imports of particular products are also being rewarded with reduced levels of intervention.

 While we have reduced intervention for lower-risk products and compliant importers, we have increased our investment in intelligence and targeting so that we can better identify and manage non-compliant goods and importers.  Our "targeted campaigns" identified and inspected potentially high-risk consignments that would normally have been considered low risk and cleared on documents.  The campaigns run so far have identified a non-compliance rate of about 50 per cent, including very high risk goods and criminal action by importers and QAP operators.

We are also conducting random Cargo Compliance Verification inspections to better identify areas of risk.  In the coming years, we will continue to refine these approaches.  The aim will be for us to be highly effective at identifying and responding to non-compliant goods and traders while having lower intervention rates for those who are compliant.  This will require good intelligence and IT systems and, of course, collaboration with Customs and active participation by industry, which has a critical share of the responsibility.   

5. PAUL ZALAI – DAFF has successfully implemented co-regulation and accreditation schemes in a range of areas. Some form of accreditation with importers, possibly in concert with Customs and Border Protection to meet specific dual criteria, seems to be a logical progression We have received general feedback from Corporate Australia recently that they fully support such a scheme.  Do you see opportunities in this concept?

DAFF certainly sees opportunities to working with importers and their agents for mutual benefit.  The Biosecurity Management Systems we are developing in partnership with some importers are an example of this.  If importers can put in place measures that give us a high level of confidence that risks have been managed, then we can significantly reduce our direct intervention.

This not only ensures good biosecurity outcomes for Australia but provides importers with a commercial benefit.

 Accreditation is similar. We need to be assured that biosecurity risks have been managed and that imported goods comply with our requirements.  We are working with industry to develop better training arrangements so that we can have confidence. We are also working with Customs to better harmonise accreditation arrangements, including for continuing professional development.

 6. PAUL ZALAI - What do you broadly see as the department's short, medium and long term goals?

I want DAFF to be a world-class organisation. In many ways, we already are. But we have to continue to improve the way we do business across the board. We need to ensure that we are making a significant contribution to leading the policy debate in our portfolio areas. We need to be strongly focussed on service delivery. We need to deliver good biosecurity outcomes while having a minimal impact on trade. And we need to encourage compliance through partnerships and understanding our clients' and stakeholders' needs.

7. PAUL ZALAI - To successfully implement ongoing reforms, an appropriate level of industry engagement will be required. How do you see this being best achieved?

DAFF has always taken seriously its relationships with industry. An example of this is that since mid-2011, DAFF has contacted or met with members of the import, cargo and shipping industries more than 1400 times.

I have no doubt, though, that our industry stakeholder engagement can be improved. I would like to see our contact more coordinated across the department, so that our stakeholders have a more focussed point of contact. I know that we consult extensively, and I want to ensure that we provide clear and timely feedback to the input we receive. I would also like us to use some new channels, such as social media, to seek views and canvas ideas.

8. PAUL ZALAI – Is there any general message you would like to give to people involved in importing goods to Australia?   

The most important message is that all importers should ensure that the goods they import into Australia comply with biosecurity requirements.  Information on our biosecurity requirements and import conditions is readily available through the Import Conditions database (ICON) and the approach we take to encouraging and enforcing compliance is available on the DAFF website. Being compliant benefits importers. Compliant sea cargo is released 16 times faster than non-compliant consignments and compliant air cargo is released 100 times quicker than non-compliant cargo.  The bottom line message is that the more that an importer can do to provide us with confidence that the goods are compliant and that biosecurity risks have been managed, the less intrusive we need to be, and the better it is for their business. 

Good compliance gives the best biosecurity outcomes for Australia, our environment and our agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries.

9. PAUL ZALAI - On behalf of FTA and our subscribers, thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. We wish you the very best in your new role and look forward to working closely with you and your executive team in meeting the upcoming challenges.