: Banana freckle in the Northern Territory

Banana freckle in the Northern Territory

Tom McCrie
Northern Territory

In August 2013, banana freckle (P Cavendishii) was discovered on Cavendish bananas at a number of properties in the Howard Springs area near Darwin in the Northern Territory. Banana freckle creates blemishes on the leaves and fruits and reduces plant yield and commercial values but does not affect the eating qualities of bananas, and consumption poses no risk to human health.

In Australia, the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, Plant Health Australia and national plant industry bodies are parties to the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed. The Deed deals with the management and funding of responses to emergency plant pest incidents, formalising the roles of each of the parties and their contribution towards costs related to approved responses.

In October 2013, the National Management Group (‘NMG’), comprising representatives from government and the affected industry parties of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council and Nursery and Garden Industry Australia, agreed to a nationally cost-shared response program to eradicate P Cavendishii.

The eradication response, conducted by the NT government in accordance with the response plan approved by the NMG, involved search and surveillance of thousands of properties for the presence of banana freckle. All banana plants within a one-kilometre radius of affected properties will be destroyed and ongoing monitoring will continue for a period of 12 months. The Plant Health Act (NT) gives inspectors broad powers to enter, inspect and search properties, require information and seize and treat plants. Section 18 of the Act allows the Chief Inspector of Plant Health to declare Quarantine areas; such areas have been established to prevent further movement of the disease and cultivation of banana plants.

Under the Deed, commercial growers may be eligible for compensation for lost crops and expected income. To date, only one has been affected by the response in the Territory. Persons who do not qualify as commercial growers are not entitled to compensation under the Deed.

However Kezia Purick MP, Member for Goyder, has been calling for the NT government to reimburse small farmers who have had their banana plantations destroyed as part of the emergency response. Whether there is an obligation to pay compensation on just terms hinges on whether the destruction of banana plants under the Plant Health Act (NT) amounts to an acquisition of property under section 50(1) of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 (Cth).

TOM McCRIE is a commercial lawyer with the Solicitor for the Northern Territory, Northern Territory Government.

(2014) 39(1) AltLJ 62
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