Ardern plays down Bledisloe Cup biosecurity concerns

“I don’t anticipate that being an issue,” she said. “I believe we will be able to find a workable solution to make the Bledisloe Cup happen.”

New Zealand’s strict protocols, which mean teams would only be able to train in larger groups gradually as they go through the 14-day quarantine, was seen as one of the reasons it lost out to Australia for the Rugby Championship hosting rights.

Ardern said hosting the Wallabies for the Bledisloe Cup was a different proposition to the Rugby Championship, which also involves South Africa and Argentina, in terms of risk.

I believe we will be able to find a workable solution to make the Bledisloe Cup happen.

Jacinda Ardern

More than a dozen Pumas players and coaches have tested positive for COVID-19 infections in the last two weeks.

“We are still working through logistics,” she said.

“Keeping in mind … it is a different risk profile for teams from Australia than the likes of South Africa or Argentina.”

Ardern added that the government would work with the dates that NZR and RA agreed upon.

A NZR spokesman said no dates had been finalised yet.

New Zealand’s general election is scheduled for October 17, and Ardern said she felt confident the country could vote and also watch a rugby game on the same day.


“I will be trying to do the same,” she said.

“I think the most important thing is that New Zealanders get the chance to see that match.”


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AFL WAG Brooke Cotchin’s father shreds AFL’s handling of biosecurity breach

The father of Brooke Cotchin has come out all guns blazing over the treatment of his daughter following her day spa quarantine breach.

Brooke, the wife of Richmond captain Trent Cotchin, was busted by the AFL breaching the league’s strict biosecurity protocols after posting an image of her visit to a day spa on the Gold Coast.

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The visit was in breach of the isolation hub that players and clubs have agreed to as part of the agreement with the Queensland Government that has allowed the 2020 AFL season to continue.

The AFL investigated Brooke’s visit and the league announced her day of pampering has cost the Richmond Football Club $45,000, with $25,000 suspended.

But now her father Rick Kennedy has hit out at the league and the club over the way she was treated in the wake of the breach.

“My own view, and this is not coming from Trent and Brooke … I think the AFL and Richmond handled it really poorly,” Kennedy said on Triple M.

“They talk today a big game about supporting women, coming in behind women and promoting women.

“What they really did is shut her down and didn’t allow her to go public and take responsibility.

“That took a few days to work its way through. I think the disappointing thing from where I sit is they had a prime opportunity to actually support a woman in a real life case rather than just words.”

Kennedy added: “Effectively she was muzzled. People are making comments and having views without having all the facts.

“If you met people face-to-face you generally don’t have those conversations, but it is easy on Instagram or Facebook to have a go.”

Brooke revealed she had become the latest AFL figure to receive a series of “vile” social media attacks following her quarantine breach.

She showed incredible class in the aftermath of the scandal as she and her husband offered to pay for the fine and issued a public apology on Instagram.

Her apology also included a brave show of support for stood down AFL reporter Mitch Cleary, who was reinstated after posting Cotchin’s deleted Instagram post of her day spa trip to his Twitter account.

“I wish to apologise for the mistake I have made and I am deeply sorry for any angst that I have created for anyone. It was an honest mistake and one that I am incredibly remorseful for,” Cotchin posted to Instagram.

“I am the first to admit I am not perfect, and I do make mistakes, this being one that I need to own and learn from.”

Now, for the first time, Cotchin has revealed the horror truth behind why she has not posted to her 36,000 Instagram followers since that apology on August 3.

Cotchin has revealed to The Herald Sun she has received “gut-wrenching” messages of online bullying in the wake of the controversy.

“It was a really hard time for not only me but our family,’’ Cotchin said.

“I was in a very bad place for a little while and it took some time to dig myself out.

“Dealing with the lengths of the online bullying was and is something I am learning to try and block out. Some of the vile comments and personal messages were gut wrenching and it breaks my heart that people deal with this on a daily basis.

“It blows my mind how nasty people can be.

“I just can’t even imagine taking the time to send such horrible messages to someone nor would it ever cross my mind to, no matter what they did.”

Cotchin will remain in the AFL’s Queensland hub until the end of the 2020 season, which could see her separated from her extended family in Victoria through to the AFL Grand Final on October 24.

The couple’s children Harper, 5, Mackenzie, 4, and Parker, 1, will also remain in their new Queensland home for as long as the Tigers remain unable to return home to Victoria.

The Tigers have been subjected to disgusting abuse on social media in recent months with Cotchin’s teammates Dylan Grimes and Nick Vlastuin this week going public to name and shame the accounts that sent them disgusting messages of abuse following Richmond’s win over Essendon in Darwin.

Two men have been arrested over the alleged death threats sent to the players.

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Mystery seeds arrive at Australian addresses from Asia, prompting fears of biosecurity risk

Dozens of packets of mystery seeds from Asia have arrived at Australian addresses prompting fears of a biosecurity breach that could wreak havoc on the environment and farm industries.

Authorities do not know who sent the seeds, or even what varieties the seeds are.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment said 36 packages containing unidentified seeds had arrived at addresses across all Australian states over the past five weeks.

The unsolicited seeds were predominantly from China, Malaysia and Taiwan.

A department spokeswoman said the seeds were yet to be identified and an investigation into their variety and origin continued.

‘A few conspiracy theories’

Where the seeds come from, and why, is a complete mystery.(Supplied: Department of Agriculture Water and Environment)

It has prompted industry group the Australian Seed Federation (ASF) to call on Australians to immediately report any unsolicited seeds to the Department of Agriculture Water and Environment.

ASF chief executive Osman Mewett said industry groups around the world had become aware of unsolicited seeds turning up in mailboxes, but it was not clear where they had come from or why.

“I’m very curious as to the motive behind it, because neither here nor in any of the overseas reports has anyone been able to explain why this is happening, where they are coming from,” Mr Mewett said.

“There are a few conspiracy theories out there, but I really haven’t seen anything concrete as to why this would be happening.

Mr Mewett said it was reasonable to suggest that illegally imported seeds, that were not subject to Australia’s biosecurity protocols, could lead to billions of dollars in damage to the Australian environment and farm and gardening sectors.

“The unsolicited seeds may not have gone through any of the checks and balances that legally imported seed goes through,” he said.

“So there’s a real risk that if they are planted, or if they are thrown in the bin and end up in the tip then they could introduce weed species or diseases to Australia that we don’t currently have.”

Silver foil packaging with white labels

Mr Mewett had not seen the illegally imported seeds but said based on “anecdotal evidence, they seem to be in silver foil packaging with white labels, from various countries of origin”.

He encouraged anyone with unidentified seeds that had arrived by post to report them to authorities.

Head of the Government’s Biosecurity Operations, Emily Canning, said seeds intercepted by border officials would typically be returned to sender or destroyed.

“Imported seeds that do not meet biosecurity conditions can threaten our environment, agricultural industries and even backyard gardens,” Ms Canning said.

Last year, the Australian Government estimated that biosecurity services underpinned $60 billion of farm production, $49 billion of agricultural exports, and $42 billion of inbound tourism.

In December it boosted airport and mail security services, but earlier this year the Federal Government axed plans to raise $325 million through a levy on shipping containers.

Anyone who receives unsolicited seeds in the mail is asked to report it the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment on 1800 798 636.

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St George Illawarra Dragons caretaker coach Dean Young to gamble on Paul Vaughan’s fitness with spot on interchange bench for Brisbane Broncos clash despite not training with team for two weeks over biosecurity breach

“Vaughany has been training at home,” Young said after taking over from Paul McGregor this week.

“I have been in contact with him a fair bit, he has been hooked up on Zoom so he hasn’t missed any video sessions or any meetings that we have had this week and our performance staff have done an incredible job of making sure he is ready to play this weekend.

“[He] is going to come off the interchange bench and I don’t want to set him up to fail by starting him in a game when he has been away from the team for the last two weeks. I will see him [on Friday] at the airport.”

Vaughan was fined $10,000 and missed the Dragons’ loss to the Roosters after visiting a Wollongong cafe for breakfast on the day of the match, a breach of the Project Apollo guidelines.

McGregor scolded Vaughan’s actions as “selfish behaviour” after the Roosters game, on the same day supercoach Wayne Bennett was sidelined for visiting a flash inner west eatery with his partner.

The Dragons need a minor miracle to make the finals, but Young wants his prop leader on the field for the first of three winnable clashes against struggling Queensland sides the Broncos, Titans and Cowboys.

Young stopped short of confirming he would chase the job on a permanent basis, but admitted the final six weeks of the season would “obviously” be an audition.

There was a fair bit of butterflies when I addressed the staff and players on Monday morning. I think that’s a good thing

Dean Young

His father Craig has excused himself from the Dragons board while the club searches for its next head coach.

Dean has received support from his old coach and South Sydney boss Bennett, who led the Dragons to their drought-breaking 2010 title with Young jnr a pivotal member of his forward pack.

“He rang up and gave me a bit of advice [this week],” Young joked. “I’d tell you [what it is], but Wayne gets cranky when I tell people secrets so I’m not allowed to say.


“I’ve got six weeks now and it’s a good opportunity to do things my way. I’m pretty good at staying focused on task and my job was to do my job for ‘Mary’ [McGregor] for the Parramatta game and after that was when my mind started going a thousand miles an hour. I moved into this.

“There was a fair bit of butterflies when I addressed the staff and players on Monday morning. I think that’s a good thing.

“The players know what I value. I value players who compete, I value players that are disciplined and I value players who are consistent. There is no grey in that. It’s black and white for me.

“You either compete hard or you don’t, you are disciplined or you are not and you are consistent or you are not. It’s pretty easy for me to see and I let the players know on Monday that that is what I value so now it is over to them.”

Jacob Host will come into the Dragons’ back row for the suspended Tyrell Fuimaono with Trent Merrin promoted to the bench.

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Brisbane Broncos slugged $140,000 over pub biosecurity breach

The NRL has hit the Broncos and 10 of its players with fines totalling $140,000 for breaching biosecurity protocols during a pub visit.

The governing body issued a breach notice with a proposed penalty of $75,000 for the club, while each of the club’s full-time players will be fined 5 per cent of their salaries – totalling $65,000 – for attending the Everton Park Hotel on August 1. The club’s three development players at the venue will have a portion of their fines suspended.

The Broncos' season from hell has just gotten worse.

The Broncos’ season from hell has just gotten worse.

At the time of the breaches, Brisbane players were permitted to dine at restaurants and cafes but were not permitted to sit in pubs and gaming areas. The players sanctioned are Jake Turpin, Kotoni Staggs, David Fifita, Cory Paix, Keenan Palasia, Sean O’Sullivan, Corey Oates, Ethan Bullemor, Josh James and Tyson Gamble. The latter three are development players and won’t be out of pocket if there are no further breaches.

“We have taken our time to thoroughly investigate this matter so we could gather as much evidence as possible to determine exactly what happened at the venue,” NRL chief Andrew Abdo said.

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Brett Finch to escape sanction for Warriors biosecurity breach

Brett Finch won’t be sanctioned for breaking the NRL’s strict biosecurity measures because he’s not a registered player or official as the code’s integrity unit plans to finalise an investigation into the COVID slip-up.

Finch, who was brought into Warriors camp by interim coach Todd Payten to brighten spirits amongst the playing group, has been isolated from the squad after pictures emerged of him recording a podcast away from their Terrigal base last Thursday night.

The former State of Origin representative was seen drinking, smoking and even playfully kissing another man on the cheek in images attached to the popular You Know The Rules Instagram page.

The NRL immediately placed Finch into quarantine and sought advice from their biosecurity experts after television footage captured him in the coaching box alongside Payten during the Warriors’ narrow loss to the Panthers on Friday night.

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Warriors v Panthers, Brett Finch, NRL investigating biosecurity breach, COVID-19

The NRL is investigating a possible biosecurity breach by former Storm and Roosters halfback Brett Finch during the Warriors’ game with Penrith.

Finch has been working with the club over the last few weeks, with coach Todd Payten praising the effect he has had on their Central Coast-based camp.

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Finch was alongside Payten in the coaches’ box on Friday night just a day after he appeared on a podcast during the Roosters’ loss to the Storm.

Photos emerged on social media which showed Finch smoking and kissing a friend the day prior to the Warriors’ loss.

Finch, 38, has been told to isolate as the NRL reaches out to its biosecurity experts over what steps to take next.

Under NRL rules players and staff must stay in their club’s bubble but can only leave in the case of emergency.

Asked how it felt to have to have Finch alongside him in the box, Payten said: “Loud. I spoke to him about it last week and he’s been really good.

“I think having him in has been really good for him as well.

“He likes to talk and that was probably the loudest box we’ve had for a while.”

The Warriors are not the first club to have been embroiled in a potential biosecurity breach.

Dragons prop Paul Vaughan and Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett have both been fined and stood down for a fortnight after being spotted dining out a week last Thursday.

Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Jr has been stood down indefinitely after he visited a barber’s shop in Brisbane last Saturday.

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Brett Finch isolated as NRL probes another biosecurity breach

Under the NRL’s biosecurity proposals, players and staff inside each club’s bubble are allowed to leave home only for limited reasons, such as playing and training and medical emergencies.

The NRL approved Payten’s request for Finch to join the squad for a short time at their Terrigal camp after an earlier application for two-time premiership winner Chris Heighington to be embedded with the Warriors was knocked back.

Brett Finch in the Warriors' coaching box.

Brett Finch in the Warriors’ coaching box.

Asked how Finch was in the coaching box, Payten said: “Loud. I spoke to him about last week and he’s been really good and I think having him in has been really good for him as well. He likes to talk and that was probably the loudest box we’ve had for a while.”

The potential breach could be another black eye for the NRL, which is dealing with the fallout of high-profile slip-ups from South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett, Dragons forward Paul Vaughan and Broncos star Tevita Pangai jnr.

The NRL is still examining the specifics of a group of up to 10 Broncos players also visiting a Brisbane pub the day after their loss to the Sharks earlier this month.

Finch, 38, was shown multiple times on the Fox Sports broadcast during the Warriors’ 18-12 loss to the table-topping Panthers at Central Coast Stadium on Friday night.

Payten spoke this week of the reasons for bringing Finch into the Warriors camp, with the squad having been stranded in Australia for almost four months to allow the NRL season to continue with 16 teams.

“I brought Finchy in for me, to keep me amused,” Payten joked. “But he has a good message because he had a really good career and then he had come challenges since.


“His main message to the group when we interviewed him on Monday night was around how much he misses this team environment that we’re in at the moment.

“He misses the structure, he misses the bus trips, he misses just hanging around the team. They were the things that really put him off-kilter once he retired.

“So our boys will look back on this time, say five, 10 years down the track, and think that was a really good time of our lives. That was the message I was trying to get through to the boys.

“I think he’s done that, but he also had some other stories that I wish he’d kept to himself at times.”

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Flower industry concerned about bloom imports and biosecurity fights for Australian-made labelling

Local flower growers have come up with their own Australian-grown label, as pressure mounts on the Federal Government to mandate country-of-origin labelling for imported flowers.

Flower growers are concerned about the high volume of imports and the biosecurity risks they bring, and said consumers deserve to know where flowers are grown.

New South Wales flower grower, Sal Russo, helped launch the label and said more than 16 Australian growers are already using it on their packaging.

“We’ve spent in excess of four years trying to make this registered trademark, called Australian Grown Flowers,” Mr Russo said.

He said that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had already approved the label.

Florists looking local

Australian flower growers created the registered trademark, Australian Grown Flowers, in December 2018.(Supplied)

Mr Russo said a “growing number” of florists had since chosen to use the label because they believed customers were becoming “more concerned about where their flowers are coming from”.

Each year, Australia imports millions of flower stems — mainly roses, chrysanthemums and carnations — from countries such as Kenya, Ecuador, Colombia and Malaysia.

Those imports are sold everywhere from supermarkets to florists and petrol stations.

National farm lobby groups and many growers are concerned about the number of flowers found with foreign pests and diseases when they arrive in Australia.

But the Federal Department of Agriculture said those numbers had decreased and that no pests or diseases from imported flowers had made it past quarantine inspectors.

The ABC understands the Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has written to the Federal Industry Minister, Karen Andrews, asking for country of origin labelling to be made compulsory for imported flowers.

The government is reviewing country of origin labelling, and is considering what other products it should be compulsory for.

A man is standing in a row of flowers holding bunches in his arms.
Sydney flower grower, Aldo Vumbaca, first started trialling the Australian grown label last year at a local market.(Supplied: Aldo Vumbaca)

Trialling the label

Sydney flower grower, Aldo Vumbaca, has been in the flower trade for more than 40 years and first started trialling the Australian grown label last year at a local market.

The Victorian Flower Industry has backed the move and hoped it will give consumers more awareness, particularly given imports have dropped due to the pandemic.

Flowers Victoria Chair, Michael van der Zwet, said with the low number of imports during COVID-19, the Australian grown label might help promote local growers.

“I’m a great believer in the Australian psyche to buy Australian,” Mr van der Zwet said.

“I think when the public learns that there’s a lot more flowers grown within Australia, I’m sure we’ll be supported.”

‘Australian voice for Australian grown’

Victorian grower, Danielle White, has produced paddock-grown roses and peonies on her property in central Victoria for the past five years.

A bunch of large pink chrysanthemums.
Flower imports have dropped during COVID-19.(Supplied: Aldo Vumbaca)

She said during COVID-19 business had been slow because wedding flower orders had dried up.

But during the downtime, Ms White connected with local and larger growers in the industry, with positive results.

In recent months, larger growers have reached out to Consortium Botanicus members.

They have since formed the Flower Industry Association that looks to promote the Australian flower industry.

“It bodes well for the health of Australia’s floraculture and it’s an upside to come out of an otherwise challenging period for growers,” Ms White said.

A man is standing in a greenhouse filled with flowers holding a bunch in his left hand staring at the camera.
Flowers Victoria Chair Michael van der Zwet said he hoped the Australian grown label might help promote local growers.(Supplied: Michael van der Zwet)

‘Silver lining’

While Melbourne is under Stage 4 lockdowns, and regional Victoria Stage 3, many florist shopfront doors are closed, but inside some businesses are still turning a profit.

South Melbourne florist, Summer Markopoulos, said there had been a silver lining to the second lockdown in Victoria, with delivery orders almost doubling since the pandemic began.

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Australia imports most of its cut flowers but growers fear international blooms may breach biosecurity

It’s not unusual for brides inspired by celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Megan Markle to spend $150,000 on wedding flowers.

But that yearning for thousands of buds comes at a cost to local flower growers — at least half the flowers sold in Australia come from countries like Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador.

“In the winter months when Australian flowers are very light on, 90 per cent can be imported flowers,” floral designer John Emmanuel Grima said.

He relies heavily on imported blooms, and buys them from Craig Musson, who imports Ecuadorian roses when he’s not breeding, growing and exporting native flowers.

Craig Musson imports Ecuadorian roses to supplement his income, in the months he can’t grow and export native flowers.(ABC: Armin Azad)

Mr Musson said Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador supplied the majority of the world’s roses.

“The number of roses sold in Australia from those three countries may be as high as 90 per cent,” he said.

The international trade, however, has forced smaller growers out of the industry.

“Where we originally had a couple of hundred rose growers, we’re now probably down to about 30 because roses, carnations, chrysanthemums have become the biggest import items into Australia,” New South Wales flower grower Sal Russo said.

A man in an orange vest holds a bouquet of flowers at a market.
New South Wales flower grower Sal Russo and national farm lobby groups fear imported fresh flowers are a biosecurity threat to other agricultural crops.(ABC: Simon Amery)

Waiting for a biosecurity breach

What keeps Mr Russo awake at night is the thought that imported blooms are a ticking biosecurity timebomb.

National farm lobby groups agree.

“To be honest, it’s quite surprising we haven’t had a pest or disease incursion threatening those $27-billion industries already,” said Tyson Cattle from peak body AusVeg and the National Farmer’s Federation’s Horticulture committee.

Data from the Federal Department of Agriculture shows that from September to January, 63 per cent of flowers imported from just one source country arrived carrying foreign pests and diseases.

Between 19 and 41 per cent of imports from three other destinations had similar problems.

Boxes of roses on sale at a market
Imported roses are a popular choice for supermarkets and petrol stations.(ABC Illawarra)

The Department wouldn’t name the individual countries, but industry sources believe the biggest offenders to be Kenya, Colombia, Ecuador and Malaysia.

Acting assistant secretary for agriculture and biosecurity, Peter Creaser, said overall “non-compliance” — where shipments were found to contain pests and diseases — had dropped by 20 per cent, although that recent data was recorded during a period when overall imports fell due to the pandemic.

“We do inspect 100 per cent of all consignments that come into Australia … so when we talk about 25 per cent of non-compliance at the border, it doesn’t mean that those flowers have been released into the environment without any action,” Mr Creaser said.

“They are actually being inspected and then if there are any live pests of concern, we will have those flowers treated here in Australia.”

A bunch of red roses - imported from Kenya.
A bunch of roses imported into Australia from Kenya in time for Valentine’s Day.(Supplied: Kenya Flower Council Facebook)

Exporting countries now have to fumigate flowers before they’re sent to Australia, or be certified by a national plant protection agency.

Anyone wanting to import from Kenya, Colombia or Ecuador needs a special permit.

Mr Russo claims the Federal Government has caved to the lobbying power of cashed-up importers who “think they’re above the law”.

It’s an allegation Mr Musson disputes.

“Australia has the strictest biosecurity regulations bar none, so anybody who’s flouting the laws is going to get caught and prosecuted, as they should,” he said.

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on iview.

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