Behaviours that threaten Australia's Biosecurity

Project dates: 30/01/2020 - 01/08/2020

The intent of this project was to review existing research to better understand the behaviours that lead to increased biosecurity risk, and identify priority behaviours that could be targeted in future research and behavioural design interventions.

Why is this important?

A strong biosecurity approach has played a key role in keeping Australia free from the world’s most severe pests and diseases. However, as international travel and trade continues to increase, it is important that we use all of the tools available to us to reduce the risk of exotic pests and diseases entering the country and damaging our precious environment and important industries. Effectively influencing individuals’ behaviours is key to maintaining our biosecurity as we rely on travellers, online shoppers, importers, inspectors, stevedores and others to do certain things to reduce risk.

What did we do?

This work included a desktop review, consultation with an Advisory Group of 13 Officers from across the Biosecurity Group and related areas, individual consultations with ten government or academic biosecurity experts, and a behavioural prioritisation workshop. Over 26,000 records from academic and grey literature were processed, leading to the identification of 20 relevant articles. In general, there is a lack of behavioural research on barriers to biosecurity, however there is consensus on problematic types of behaviours (e.g., not declaring) revealing opportunities for further research.

Three pathways were examined (Traveller, Mail, Cargo) and eight priority behaviours (or lack of behaviours) were identified as targets for potential research:

  • Buying seeds from an overseas supplier without checking it is permitted;
  • People overseas sending problematic items to Australia;
  • Receiving items by mail and not checking what you need to do;
  • Not declaring problematic items on arrival to Australia;
  • Not checking bag contents before travel to Australia;
  • Not checking biosecurity requirements before travel to Australia;
  • Not cleaning cargo containers;
  • Incorrectly declaring cargo.

What did we find out?

  • Key motivators and barriers depend on the behaviour, not the biota. Interestingly, often the same behaviours (e.g., not declaring) can have very different motivations.
  • There is a spectrum of intent between intentional and inadvertent behaviours. For instance, someone may knowingly ‘rush’ the job of cleaning cargo, but do this because they lack time, not because they intend to cause harm.
  • There is a general lack of behavioural research, with almost no empirical research found that had evaluated the impact of behavioural interventions on biosecurity behaviour. The research found was largely theoretical in nature.
  • While there are a wide variety of biosecurity threats, the same behaviours tend to apply across these threats, meaning that there is consensus on problematic types of behaviour. For example, travellers failing to declare items on entry to Australia is problematic as they could be bringing a wide range of pests or organisms with them. This indicates that there is a good opportunity to target key behaviours to significantly reduce risk.
  • While some information was found in the literature about biosecurity behaviours, it was largely theoretical or opinion based. Next steps should include further research on the underlying barriers and motivations for problematic biosecurity behaviours to assist in the design and implementation of effective behaviour change interventions.

Funding / Grants

  • Funded by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (2020 - 2020)

Chief Investigators



Project Infographic – click image to enlarge

Project Summary Poster:

Click HERE to access this file.