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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8645

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (10:42): I rise to speak in support of the package of three bills to establish a horse disease response levy. The outbreak of equine influenza was only four years ago, in August 2007, and horses on thousands of properties were reported to have been infected over that time. In response to the emergency, Commonwealth, state and territory governments worked with the horse industry and horse owners to eradicate the disease. On 30 June 2008 affected areas of the country were officially declared free of the virus as no new cases had been reported for six months, since 25 December 2007. During this outbreak the Commonwealth government provided through various assistance packages about $227 million of the $268 million committed to individuals and businesses whose primary source of income had been affected by the outbreak and the subsequent movement restrictions.

This is why I strongly support the package of three bills to establish the horse disease response levy. The combination of these three bills will ensure that, if there is a combined national emergency response, at the end of the day, the industry is able to fund that, subsequent to government dealing with it.

The first bill, the Horse Disease Response Levy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011 amends the Australian Animal Health Council (Live-stock Industries) Funding Act 1996 to enable a horse disease response levy to be appropriated to the Australian Animal Health Council. The Commonwealth will ensure that assistance is given to the industry to help in progressing R&D activities and/or the promotion of maintenance of horse health.

The second bill, the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011, imposes a levy on manufactured horse feed and worm treatment for horses to enable the horse industry to repay amounts paid by the Commonwealth on behalf of the horse industry in response to an emergency animal disease outbreak affecting horses. The introduction of this levy is an important mechanism for the horse industry to recoup costs if the need arises. It will only—and I stress, only—be used or acted upon if there is an emergency animal disease outbreak affecting horses. The third bill, the Horse Disease Response Levy Collection Bill 2011, will enable the collection and administration of a horse disease response levy on manufactured horse feed and worm treatments for horses. The Commonwealth will be able to impose penalties for unpaid levies and the remission of any penalty for late payments as well as enable the collection of information and documents as specified by the Commonwealth.

These bills have come to fruition under this government after a typical initially half-baked approach which led to a failed attempt to pass legislation in 2008. While their motives were correct, the government's delivery of policy outcomes was less than perfect. A bill inquiry was conducted in relation to the failed 2008 bill. Horse owners identified the cause of the EI outbreak as a result of a breakdown in quarantine arrangements and the importation of shuttle stallions. It was because of these findings that the industry argued that a levy should be imposed on those most likely to contribute to future disease outbreak and who would ultimately benefit from any resulting compensation. The committee recommended the passage of the bill. The committee has indicated support for compulsory registration for all horses in the establishment of a national register. The legislation was ultimately reintroduced and defeated in the Senate on 4 February 2009.

Since then, there has been extensive consultation with the industry, with a constant stream of stakeholders coming through both the minister's and my own offices. Finally, on 3 March 2011, the peak horse bodies—the Australian Horse Industry Council, Harness Racing Australia, the Australian Racing Board and Equestrian Australia—each signed up to the EADR, an emergency animal disease response agreement, to fund dealing with future horse outbreaks like horse flu on behalf of the horse industry. The agreement means that the Australian government will pay for all costs associated with disease outbreak but then the industry has 10 years to pay back its share of the costs.

The horse industry had previously disagreed on how to collect its funding share. Recreational horse owners, understandably, had concerns that a compulsory levy would disadvantage them, but now the industry has agreed to place a levy of about 50c on manufactured feed and wormers. While there is not universal support, it is widely accepted that this is the best and fairest available option to collect the levy across the horse industry.

As previously mentioned, with the recent outbreak of the Hendra virus in Queensland and the discovery of the deadly disease in a dog, there is a very real need for the Commonwealth to impose measures to assist in combating outbreak. Having said that, the Hendra virus has an awful outcome on humans and I would not want people to think that the animal industry is expected to fund those exotic diseases that have a serious human component, like Hendra. I do not want to confuse the issue there. But it does show how we have to act when a disease comes under our skies.

We on this side of the House are concerned about quarantine and biosecurity defences having been significantly downgraded. We need to be ready for an outbreak that will inevitably come. Labor's 2009 federal budget took another $35.8 million from the quarantine and biosecurity budgets, leading to the loss of 125 jobs and reduced inspections of arriving passengers and cargo. Fifty-eight million dollars was slashed from the Customs budget, leading to 4.7 million fewer air cargo consignments being inspected each year and 2,150 fewer vessels being boarded on arrival.

Science is taking a back seat as federal bureaucrats find reasons to ignore warnings due to funding shortfalls and there has not been sufficient support from Minister Ludwig or Minister Burke before him. I have serious concerns about biosecurity and quarantine measures in our country. Ignoring the myrtle rust and Asian bee incursions are two recent cases in point. New South Wales and Queensland tried, but neither got sufficient back-up from the Commonwealth government—that is, Minister Ludwig or Minister Burke—who pretended it was not really happening. Then there is yesterday's decision on New Zealand apples.

I strongly support the introduction and combination of these three bills. I think we have got to a point where, as much as is humanly possible, it is fair. It imposes a lesser burden on recreational animals and a far more serious burden on those who spend most on manufactured feeds and wormers, which, undoubtedly, the racehorse industry, the jumping industry and the professional horse industry do.