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Wednesday, 21 August 2002
Page: 5426

Mr FITZGIBBON (9:58 AM) —The Plant Health Australia (Plant Industries) Funding Bill 2002 will enable new levies and charges to be paid to Plant Health Australia Ltd through the normal appropriation from consolidated revenue. The bill also provides a mechanism for moneys collected in excess of a plant industry's liability to PHA to be appropriated for research and development activities. PHA was established in April 2000 as a Corporations Law company responsible for coordinating national plant health matters. The Commonwealth, all states and territories and a number of plant industries make up its membership.

In 1996 Professor Malcolm Nairn reported, following a review of quarantine in Australia. That review was commissioned by the last Labor government. The concept of a national coordinating body to deal with plant health flowed from the Nairn review. I for one am pleased that the incoming Howard government followed up on this Labor initiated strategy. In early 1998, the industry and government, through a ministerial council senior officers group, began working on the concept of a national coordinating body to address plant health issues. That process eventually led to the registration of Plant Health Australia Ltd in April 2000.

The role of this organisation has four key elements: (1) it is an adviser to both industry and governments on plant health issues; (2) it is a promoter of international and domestic confidence in Australia's plant health status; (3) it is charged with the responsibility to develop effective, consultative, transparent and auditable plant health management systems; and (4) it is charged with the responsibility to develop and manage plant health programs. It is an important organisation that has a key role to play in the future of some of our major export industries. Industry members of PHA cover the grains, cotton, vegetable, potato, sugar, wine grape, nursery, apple and pear, rice, banana, fresh stone fruit, nut, honey and strawberry industries.

The purpose of the bill is to help plant industries fund their share of PHA's costs. PHA's running costs of approximately $1.5 million per annum are shared between its members. The plant industry's share of PHA's costs is approximately $500,000 each year. As the minister pointed out in his second reading speech, there has been an interim measure in place pending the development of these new arrangements. Industry members of PHA have been funding their share of PHA's costs, either directly from the industry association moneys or through their industry's research and development corporation. Under PHA's constitution, these costs are shared between its plant industry members, based in part on the value of production of the various crops.

The minister has advised that the legislative mechanism was developed in consultation with PHA plant industry members. It is designed to limit the appropriation made to PHA to exactly that of each plant industry member's share of PHA's annual costs. Once an industry's share of its annual contribution to PHA has been met, the bill provides for moneys collected in excess of this amount to be redirected to that industry's R&D corporation and be deemed to be an R&D levy or charge. This R&D component will be matched by the Commonwealth, as is currently the case. The new PHA levies and charges component will not be matched. Clearly, the benefit of returning any excess levy contributions to research activities is that the industries will benefit from the government's matching dollar for dollar research and development funding.

The bill also contains measures that will enable a plant industry member to raise additional funds for special projects that the member wishes to be undertaken by PHA on its behalf. In accordance with PHA's constitution, PHA's members have to agree to these before the start of the year. While the plant industries have sought to pay for their yearly contribution to PHA from a new PHA levy and charge, there will be no increase in the overall levy and charge burden on industry members, and we welcome that. The minister advised in his second reading speech that this is because the proposed operative rate of PHA levy or charge for initial participants will be exactly offset by a corresponding decrease in that industry's existing R&D levy and charge rate. In addition, the impact on business will be minimised, as existing levy and charge collection arrangements are to be used with no change to the paperwork required for businesses or producers already paying levies and charges. The minister has also advised that the legislation has the full support of industry groups and producers. It establishes arrangements for the long-term funding of PHA's plant health activities. The opposition, through Plant Health Australia, have confirmed that to be the case. I am pleased to say, in the minister's presence, that the opposition support the bill wholeheartedly.