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Thursday, 21 February 2008
Page: 1088

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (9:40 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 will help the horse industry fund its obligations under the provisions of the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, the EADRA. It will impose a once-off statutory levy on the registration of horses to meet the industry’s commitment to share funding of responses to emergency disease outbreaks that affect horses.

With the current outbreak of equine influenza in Australia, nationally agreed emergency response arrangements were tested for the first time by a major animal disease outbreak in multiple jurisdictions. The EADRA, which commenced in 2002, is an important part of our national emergency animal disease preparedness and response infrastructure. The Australian government and all state and territory governments are signatories to the EADRA, as are a number of livestock industries, but not the horse industry. Similar arrangements apply to plant industries.

Under the EADRA, the costs of responding to emergency animal diseases are shared by the affected parties. It provides certainty in funding for emergency animal disease threats and certainty in providing a rapid and effective response.

Recognising that most industry bodies do not have the reserves or the required capital backing to arrange commercial loans to draw on in the event of an emergency animal diseases outbreak, the Australian government agreed to underwrite industry contributions under the EADRA. Without ready access to financial underwriting for affected industries, an EAD response could be delayed and the overall response severely prejudiced.

Conditions for underwriting industry contributions to an EAD response are set out in the EADRA. These include the condition that there will be no government underwriting without an agreed repayment scheme, such as a statutory levy, and that repayments must be within a reasonable period of time, generally no more than 10 years.

All major livestock industries are signatories to the EADRA, including cattle, sheep, wool, pigs, dairy, poultry, goat and honeybee. All have arrangements in place to meet their obligations under the EADRA in the event of an animal disease emergency. In most cases this is a levy set at a zero rate by regulation. Other industries have accumulated reserves or have an existing positive levy in place. Where a levy mechanism is in place, collection is at a point of transaction, such as when cattle are sold at saleyards.

Ratification of the EADRA by the horse industry was delayed because of difficulties in obtaining industry agreement to an appropriate levy mechanism. Unlike production industries, it was difficult to easily establish a levy collection point that was equitable to all. However, after extensive consultation the industry has agreed that it was best to impose it at the point of horse registration.

The Australian Horse Industry Council made a submission to the former government in late 2006 on behalf of the three peak national representative industry bodies—the AHIC, the Australian Harness Racing Council and the Australian Racing Board—supporting the introduction of a statutory levy to be applied to the initial registration of horses with recognised breed societies and performance organisations. This levy would be payable only once, on the initial registration of a horse. It would not be retrospective.

Since equine influenza was first detected in August 2007, up to the time of the last confirmed case in late December 2007, 6,627 properties had been infected in New South Wales and 3,569 in Queensland. All of these cases now appear to have been resolved. It is expected that eradication may be achieved by mid-March and that it will be possible to demonstrate in a few months time provisional proof of freedom from the disease. This has been an excellent effort by all parties, government and industry.

By then, the costs of the national response will be known and the extent of each party’s liability ascertained. Regulations will then be drafted under the provisions of this new legislation to set an operative horse disease response levy rate to enable the industry to repay the Australian government for funds advanced on its behalf.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Markus) adjourned.