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Letter to Minister - Red Back spider crawling on the pier

Friday, July 12, 2019

PO Box 555

Norfolk Island 2899


The Hon. Sussan Ley MP

Minister for the Environment

Department of Environment and Energy

GPO Box 787
ACT 2601

11 July 2019

Dear Minister Ley,

Re: Urgent Biosecurity risk to Norfolk Island

I am writing to bring to your urgent attention the arrival yesterday, 10 July 2019 of red-back spiders onto Norfolk Island via freight onboard an unloading cargo ship. This species has never been seen before on Norfolk and the circumstances of their arrival point to disastrously inadequate and lax Bio-Security controls that will inevitably result in the unwanted arrival of other insects, spiders, snakes etc. onto our Island. Norfolk Island has been free of many of the pests that plague Australia however Bio Security’s poor controls are a direct threat to our pristine environment and endemic species such as the Green Parrot and Norfolk Island Pine.

We request your urgent intervention to call for a halt and complete review of current Bio-security procedures on Norfolk Island, particularly when freight arrives by sea and Bio Security’s response to discovery of infestations. Without this there is a real and distinct threat to our endemic and endangered species and island way of life.

Background information:

I know that you are very familiar with Norfolk Island from your role as our Minister in the previous Morrison Government. You would know that there has been considerable disquiet over the past three years due to the perceived inability of Department of Agriculture and Water Resources officers to protect our island’s pristine and fragile environment, especially with the opening up of fresh food and cut flower importations and lessening of requirements when importing certain pets, whilst paradoxically making it extremely difficult to import other animals and ruminants.

Over the past six months I have been part of a group of residents loosely named The Rock Group, who are opposed to the importation of rock and sand for our upcoming airport upgrade due to the real chance that spiders, snakes, insects and pathogens etc. will be brought to our Island in the rock and sand as well as hidden in the big equipment and machinery the contracted company will bring to the Island. This is based on our knowledge of infestations in other jurisdictions who have had much more rigorous EIS and EPBC processes applied than will ever occur here. Despite our protests imported rock will be used for the upgrade.

As you know the majority of the Island’s goods arrive by sea, creating an absolute necessity for Departmental officers to deal with quarantine and bio-security inspections before goods are brought ashore – that is, onboard the ship.  Under our own former Norfolk Island Government’s control and staffing this occurred and many times officers stopped infestations of insects and bugs by finding them during on-board inspections and banning transport of the infected cargo to the shore.

However since responsibility for quarantine passed from the former Norfolk Island Government to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, no on-board inspections have occurred as the Department considers it and OH&S risk for their officers to board the ship to undertake the work. That has meant that inspections occur after the arrival of infected goods on to the land.

Circumstances of Red Back Spider arrival July 10, 2019


As the Head Stevedore for Lighterage operations I am abreast of everything that occurs during the unloading of cargo ships. On board the ship yesterday were large equipment items that will be used to support the transportation of barges being built for cruise ship passenger unloading being a trailer and carriage. Both had been completely wrapped in plastic, except in the area where the hanging mechanism is placed to lift the item off the ship. While waiting for the trailer to be prepared for unloading, a stevedore noticed a cobweb in the unwrapped section of the trailer. I was called to inspect it together with the shipping agent PDL representative. On closer inspection it was seen that the trailer was covered to a large extent in cobwebs and Red Back spiders were sighted.

A call was immediately made to Bio Security officers on the shore, who being unable to come out to the ship to make the inspection themselves, sent one can of Mortein out and requested the webs be sprayed. The can was emptied onto the trailer and it was taken ashore. At the shore I spoke in a heated way with one officers about the complete inadequacy of sending out one can of spray to be applied by lighterage workers and that no inspection was made by experienced personnel prior to the trailer being brought to shore. She was at a loss to know how else to deal with the situation asking me “What else do you want me to do”?

On the shore Department officers emptied another spray can onto the trailer and called in a local pest controller who covered it in tarpaulin and fumigated the item, which he was still doing even as it was being driven up the road further onto the Island. At the end of the day officers sprayed the lighters, having allowed them to continue to operate bringing all other freight from the ship uninterrupted.

One of the lighterage workers found a Red Back spider crawling on the pier which he killed.   

The carriage had already been taken ashore and it is unknown by me if it was found to have a similar infestation. Additionally, all other freight on board the ship was not inspected until well onto the shore or unwrapped at locations right across the island. It will be astounding if the spider is not found to have successfully migrated to our Island.

I also bring to your attention that this is not the first time that bugs and insects have been detected by stevedores at the ship and Bio Security has responded by sending out a can of Mortein. I made a complaint last month about two cans being sent out to spray a pallet of onions with flies found inside the wrapping and which would have definitely been maggotted. I have had no response to my complaint.

In the near future over 35,000cubic metres of rock and sand and a quantity of heavy machinery and equipment will be imported onto Norfolk Island and Bio Security will not be able to make inspections prior to the physical arrival of the rock onto the land. Given the evidence of their response to discovery of infestations to date, there would be few on Norfolk Island who would consider that their capacity to capture any or every spider and bug that crawls out from under any rock would be zero.

I respectfully request your very urgent intervention by calling a stop to the inadequate Bio Security procedures undertaken on Norfolk Island where inspection of freight does not occur on cargo ships prior to their removal to land; and investigate the inadequacy of Bio Security’s response when contaminations are discovered.

As Minister for the Environment I know that you will do all that you can to protect our pristine and unique environment and Island.  I look forward to your earliest reply.


Duncan Edward

Cc           Terri Buttler MP Shadow Minister for the Environment

Cc           David Smith, Member for Bean david.smith

Cc           Senator Richard Di Natale

Cc           Jon Stanhope

Cc           Geoff Simpson

Cc           The Norfolk Islander 

Cc           Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications

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