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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Page: 3047


Mr LITTLEPROUD (MaranoaMinister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (11:26): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Australia's agricultural sector is a fundamental pillar of Australian society and one of the largest contributors to our national growth. The gross value of farm production is forecast to reach $59 billion in 2017-18. Australia's agricultural levy system is one of the foundations of the profitability and competitiveness of our primary industries. The levy system allows primary producers to respond to challenges and opportunities and embrace innovation through collective investment and cooperation.

This bill makes amendments to the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act 1991 to support the effective operation of the levy system into the future.

The act sets out arrangements for the collection of levies and charges on primary products. Levies are collected by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and disbursed to 18 levy recipient bodies. These bodies invest in research and development, marketing, residue testing and biosecurity for the benefit of levied industries and the broader economy. By value of production, about 92 per cent of agricultural industries have chosen to have a levy. There are currently 113 levies collected across 77 commodities.

Depending on the structures of each industry, levies are generally collected from individual primary producers by intermediaries at a narrow point in the supply chain—usually at the first point of transfer of the primary product. An intermediary might be a wool broker, or an abattoir. These intermediaries are then required to pass the levies they have collected on to the department.

Australian agriculture's uptake of new technologies means that primary products are now being bought and sold in ways that do not clearly fall within the legal framework established in 1991. To provide clarity for industry, the bill will allow the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to determine certain acts which, when performed, would make a person liable to collect and report levies.

The bill also amends the act to further support the effective operation of levy payer registers. Levy payer registers will allow the 15 rural research and development corporations, as key levy recipient and investment bodies, to identify and engage directly with the primary producers who pay the levies that fund their activities. In 2016 the government amended the act to allow the department to disclose levy payer information to the RDCs for the purpose of establishing levy payer registers. A pilot levy payer register project for the grains industry has since been completed in partnership with the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Australia's agricultural industries are diverse and there cannot be a 'one size fits all' approach to levy payer registers. The bill allows for the collection of commodity-specific information in addition to basic levy payer information, in limited circumstances and where it will be of clear benefit to the levy payers.

The act currently allows the disclosure of levy payer information by an eligible recipient to a third party only with the written approval of the secretary. The bill facilitates the further protection and proper use of levy payer information by allowing the secretary to impose conditions on such a disclosure, and revoke the approval if conditions are breached. These decisions will also be made subject to the act's reconsideration and review provisions.

The bill will allow the department to publish statistics about levies and their collection to inform industry about the cost effectiveness of individual levies and the system generally.

This bill will further support the effective operation of Australia's agricultural levy system. The government is committed to a levy system that continues to enable agricultural industries to invest collaboratively and drive future productivity gains.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.