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Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Page: 6907

Mr HUNT (6:17 PM) —In rising to address the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008, the Horse Disease Response Levy Collection Bill 2008 and the related bill, I want to begin with a simple proposition. The people of the peninsula, the people of Westernport and the people of Bass Coast who populate the electorate of Flinders are horse people. This is a sector, an industry, a passion and a pastime which is of extreme importance not just to the young and not just to families but to people of all ages across those sectors of the electorate of Flinders. So I want to proceed on three bases: firstly, to set out for the House the extent and scope of the horse industry within my electorate; secondly, to address the background to this particular legislation, which is the need to deal with and provide a framework for equine influenza, if there is a further outbreak, or other such similar exotic horse diseases; and, thirdly, to address the reasons why, whilst we are supportive of the general direction of taking further that which we had previously put in place, we believe that there is a fundamental unfairness in the allocation between the thoroughbred and racing industries and the heavy commercial sectors of the horse world and that sector, the 80 per cent, which is the domestic, casual, pleasure or not-for-profit part of the horse sector, the pony club end of the horse world.

Let me begin with the Mornington Peninsula, Westernport and Bass Coast and what the entire horse sector means to the Mornington Peninsula. It is a very important part not just of our local economy but of our sense of identity, of self, of the great majesty that is the Mornington Peninsula, Bass Coast and Westernport at their best. For example, the Freedman brothers have three major racing stables on the Mornington Peninsula. There is Markdel, at St Andrews Beach, which I have had the opportunity to visit. It is a world-class training facility with 85 boxes—the home of a triple Melbourne Cup winner during its training days, now moved on to retirement—and a 1,400-metre grass track. St Ives, at Merricks North, is the second of the Freedman brothers’ properties, with 40 stable boxes and a 1,600-metre training track. The third is Denistoun Park, at Tuerong, which has a 42-box complex and 1,650 metres of grass track.

There are many other major equestrian centres. These include Treehaven Equestrian Centre, in Somerville. That is a competition club. It is a venue for equestrian sports such as dressage, showjumping, showing and other activities within that world. We have Danbury Park, at Somerville, an indoor-outdoor equestrian centre. We have Carringbush Park, at Tyabb, which involves thoroughbred breaking, pretraining, float and barrier training, retraining and general assistance with horse needs. We have trail rides and trail-riding small businesses: Arthurs Seat Trail Rides; the Ace Hi riding ranch; Gunnamatta Trail Rides; Willow Lodge, Somerville; Spring Creek; and a host of other different small businesses. All up, there are at least 16 other horse-training businesses listed on the Mornington Peninsula alone in the online business directory. Horse business is big business on the Mornington Peninsula and, more importantly than that, it is something that goes to the heart of young people, of young families and of our sense of self and identity. That is why this issue is of genuine and deep personal concern for literally thousands of people in the electorate of Flinders.

This brings me to the second issue: the bill and the background to the bill. The background is that, in 2002, the Commonwealth put in place the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, EADRA. EADRA set in place a process for establishing a mechanism to facilitate rapid responses to and the control, eradication or containment of certain animal diseases. Most importantly, although that framework was never fully fleshed out, when there was an outbreak of equine influenza, what could have been a catastrophic disaster for the industry was managed, contained and dealt with. The original cause was a problem; we acknowledge that. But the containment and treatment as a result of what we had put in place was important and successful. It contained something which would otherwise have been far worse and would have done far more damage not just to the industry but also to the animals involved. It was a problem but it was dealt with, and now we look to the future, to the next phase. However, whilst we support very much the idea of moving forward to a more comprehensive arrangement, there is a fundamental unfairness in the arrangements set out in these two bills.

Let me turn to the three areas of concern we have with this bill. The first is that the bill fundamentally misallocates responsibility for the funding between the commercial sector and what you might call the non-commercial or the domestic, leisure or pleasure sector of the horse industry. On the figures available to me, 20 per cent of those in the horse industry are engaged in what you might call heavy commercial horse activities—the thoroughbred and racing sector. The other 80 per cent are in the domestic or pleasure sector of the horse industry—those associated with pony clubs, for instance, and private ownership. Yet this bill makes no differentiation between the burden to be borne by those who are simply owners of horses and those who are racers, trainers or breeders of horses.

There is a fundamental imbalance here, and it has two bases. Firstly, there is a higher risk which results from the importation of horses not for domestic use but for the heavy commercial sector. If disease is going to enter Australia, it is almost certainly going to be from activities within the 20 per cent of high-value horse activities. Secondly, there is a higher return for those in the 20 per cent of high-value horse activities, and they are the ones who will receive the benefits and rewards of a stable horse industry. And yet it is the 80 per cent who have a low level of risk and a low level of return who will bear a high burden of cost and responsibility.

That is why we have a fundamental problem with this bill. We have a problem not with the objective, not with the intention, but with the application and the levying of a heavy burden on the sector which neither risk bringing diseases into Australia nor enjoy returns from their horse activities. That is the problem. What it means is that mums and dads on the Mornington Peninsula, on the Bass Coast and across Westernport will bear the cost for high-profit, high-income areas. It is about a fair go for the horse sector on the peninsula. And this bill—and I say it with great sadness—does not achieve that outcome.

The second of the three areas of concern is that we have seen clear groups who distance themselves from this bill. The Queensland Horse Council, for example, the National Campdraft Council of Australia and the pleasure horse and hobby horse sectors have all been critical of what is in this bill. The reason why, at the end of the day, we have to reject it is that—and this is the third point—there is an unfair impact. It does not, as a result, address the threat properly, and there are also failings within the bill in terms of preparation for future outbreaks. The intention is good. The execution is bad. But the unfairness is utterly unacceptable to us.

I want to finish by paying tribute to and honouring those groups I outlined earlier who are involved in the equestrian, horse-racing and general horse sectors. I commend their work. Sadly, we are unable to support this bill because of the unfairness involved in its impact on mums and dads, on small businesses and others involved in the horse sector, who will bear a disproportionate load and a disproportionate burden. But they do play an important role in the life of the Mornington Peninsula, Westernport and Bass Coast, and I thank them for their work. I say with great sadness that I believe the minister needs to go back, rethink the bill and look at a fairer system. That would give us all a chance of moving forward together.