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Wednesday, 21 August 2002
Page: 5427


Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (10:04 AM) —in reply—I thank the honourable member and the opposition for their support of the Plant Health Australia (Plant Industries) Funding Bill 2002. It is, of course, uncontroversial, and it is receiving the support of the industries, but it is significant legislation and it does put in place the mechanisms for plant industries to contribute towards a range of pest and disease eradication initiatives in a way that has not been possible in the past. I think it is an important step forward, therefore, in Australia's ongoing campaign to maintain our clean and green image and to ensure that our industries are protected from pests and diseases that we do not want in this country. The bill provides a mechanism to enable plant industry members of Plant Health Australia Ltd to pay their share of PHA's costs by diverting a portion of existing levies and charges to PHA. The legislative changes proposed give effect to plant industries' requests not to increase the overall levy and charge burden on producers.

PHA was established in April 2000 as a Corporations Law company responsible for coordinating national plant health matters. Its members consist of plant industries in all state, territory and Commonwealth governments. The industry members of PHA cover the grains, cotton, vegetable and potato, sugar, wine, grape, nursery, apple and pear, rice, banana, fresh stone fruit, nut, honey and strawberry industries, so it is a comprehensive group and there is hope that its membership may extend even further as years go by. The legislative mechanism was developed in consultation with PHA and its members and has the full support of the industry. 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. The existing levy and charge collection arrangements, as I indicated in my previous remarks on this bill, are to be used.

The bill also contains measures that will enable a plant industry member to raise additional funds for special projects that the member wishes to undertake on behalf of PHA. In accordance with PHA's constitution, PHA's members have to agree to these before the start of the year. It is difficult to set a levy rate that will collect a precise amount of money and no more. Those plant industry members expected to use these arrangements are intending to seek the imposition of operative levy and charge rates at a level that will comfortably collect funds in excess of their liability to PHA. The bill makes provision for these excess funds to be redirected to fund research and development activities. There will be a slight reduction in Commonwealth contribution to research and development because of the diversion of some industry funds to PHA. As the intention of the bill is to facilitate the disbursement of levies and charges to PHA, there are no other financial implications to the Commonwealth. I commend the bill to the Committee.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.