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Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Page: 6913

Mrs MARKUS (6:47 PM) —I rise today to speak on the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008, the Horse Disease Response Levy Collection Bill 2008 and the Horse Disease Response Levy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008. Whilst I understand the government was waiting on the outcome of the inquiry, it is unacceptable that an industry which has been crippled by equine influenza, and even today is still recovering, has had to wait over six months to know the costs to it. It was one year ago that the community I represent was impacted significantly by an outbreak of equine influenza. The Hawkesbury is home to a racecourse, studs, polo and pony clubs, and many that are involved in the leisure horse industry. It is also home to many small businesses that are dependent on the equine industry for their livelihood.

Equine influenza had an enormous impact on the industry. Andrew Harding, who is the Australian Racing Board chief, was quoted as saying that ‘EI had cost the industry $4.3 million a day, comprising $3 million for racing and $1.3 million for breeding’. It was the coalition government who realised the challenges being faced by the industry and on 30 August announced $4 million worth of grants and then, 10 days later, an additional $110 million package. Acknowledging this was not going to be a long-term solution for the industry, the coalition government announced an additional $117 million in assistance on top of the $114 million already delivered.

The fact that this government is forcing 80 per cent of the total cost back onto an industry still recovering is unacceptable. I have a list here of a number of businesses that reside, work and operate in my electorate. I will not list them all here but I will list some: Sydney Equestrian Supplies, Newmarket Saddlery, Rug-A-Horse Second Hand Saddlery, Benson Custom Saddlery, Charlton Horse Stud Saddlery and Charlton Horseland, to name a few. Having attended many community meetings immediately after EI hit—and I have to say that Hawkesbury was one of the first areas that was impacted—I met with stablehands, farriers and also restaurants. Clydesdale restaurant was actually two Clydesdales drawing a carriage where people enjoyed a meal. All of these businesses were stopped overnight, their source of income immediately cut off. Other businesses, including the local blanket maker and breeders, were seriously impacted. While there is recovery, many of those people are still being impacted, particularly the breeders, and I will talk about them in a few moments.

There are over 1.2 million horses in Australia and, of those, between 50,000 and 60,000 are registered. That is a small number. The legislation is heavily targeted at a small number of horse owners who register their horses, and it is quite evident that only a small proportion of horse owners would be subject to this levy. This means that around 20 per cent of horse owners will be included in this levy simply because the majority of horse owners do not register their horses. The majority of liability is going to fall on the owners of pleasure and performance horses who do not generate an income. In the event of a disease, they will receive minimal, if not nil, compensation through EADRA. This is a huge burden to put on a small number of horse owners.

Earlier this year I met with the Arabian Horse Society, who are located in Windsor, and I listened to the challenges being faced not just by the pleasure and performance industry but also by breeders. One of the issues raised was the long-term loss of income for breeders, largely due to brood mares not being able to foal until next season. This will mean a whole year without an income. Many of these breeders rely heavily or only on this as their source of income. These people still have to feed and maintain their brood mares for the following season. A levy placed on them now will only add more strain as they attempt to make ends meet, due to not only equine influenza but also the increased costs of living we are seeing with increased fuel and grocery prices, mortgage rates and so on. As highlighted by the associations, the levy will also have the potential impact of discouraging people from registering. As a result of that, some of the associations who are already struggling with registration and need to continue to relate to breeders may be completely removed from the scene.

I have spoken this week with representatives from the horse industry who do not support the levy. This clearly contradicts what Barry Smyth from the Australian Horse Industry Council is saying. While I have every respect for his right to have a view, it appears that not everybody in the industry agrees with him. He claims that the industry unanimously supports this. I would have to say, after speaking to a number of people involved very closely with the industry, that this is untrue. The horse industry does support EADRA in principle, but Mr Smyth knows a majority in the industry do not support the levy—and who can blame them? Their concern is who is going to pay and the potential inequity of how this levy will be implemented.

The government is yet to tell the horse industry and horse owners how the levy will be collected and what the levy will be. The majority of the industry do not support this levy, even after the minister wrote to horse owners on 11 June this year and threatened not to provide any further assistance for outbreaks such as equine influenza if they did not sign up to the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement.

In February this year, the Australian Horse Industry Council released a follow-up equine influenza impact study. Of the 2,721 respondents, 33 per cent believe they will experience ongoing financial hardship beyond August this year. So we have an industry that are still recovering and now, when they are struggling to make ends meet, they are going to be slugged with a levy they know nothing about. We have a government that have no understanding of the complexities of the equine industry and yet they propose this unfair option. It is evident from the bills that have been introduced that the government are totally out of touch with this area. It is clearly evident that they do not understand the financial loss that people in this industry are still experiencing and will continue to experience over the coming year. The government believe that the levy should be placed on registered horse owners. What they have not considered is that if people know they have to pay a levy because their horse is registered they will not register their horse. If people do not register their horse then memberships of course will drop and, as I mentioned earlier, associations will be impacted.

These bills are another example of a government that look at a bandaid approach, rather than sitting down with a broad range of industry representatives to source real, practical solutions. This is just another example of the government’s desperation to increase the budget surplus they inherited so that they can look like they are good economic managers. I support the opposition’s stance to oppose the passage of these bills and call on the government to stop playing with people’s lives.