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Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Page: 6919

Mr RANDALL (7:10 PM) —I am very pleased to speak on the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and consequential bills this evening. The equine industry is an industry for which I have a deep passion. I will set my bona fides at the beginning of this discussion. I have been around horses since I was a young boy. I was brought up in the country, made a natural progression through pony clubs, ended up riding in rodeos and semi-professionally trained racehorses for over seven years. I still maintain a strong interest in horses to the extent that I have been involved on the breeding side and I am currently the manager of a very good little Danetime filly called Chillisa that went back into work today. She won her first race at her first start as a two-year-old, and I am looking forward to better things with my racing colleagues in the near future. I understand that the whip actually had a nice punt on her when she won first up, so everyone was happy—everyone is happy when their horses win.

My bona fides go back even further than that. My grandfather, who was brought up in Angaston, used to break in remounts for the Light Horse Brigade. They would buy the horses from Tanunda and their horses would run them home to Angaston, where, during the First World War, they would break them in and ship them off to the Middle East. So we have a bit of history in the equine area, and I do have a deep passion for horses of all disciplines. It is on that basis that I wish to support whatever measure it takes to make sure that this industry is well and truly protected into the future.

Australia has a really proud history of quarantine and a disease-free environment. We know that there have been very few outbreaks of, for example, foot-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease. As we know, many other countries around the world are subject to these on a regular basis, but our biosecurity measures are such that these have very seldom been a problem for Australia. That is one of the reasons why we are a great exporter of animal products—beef, mutton et cetera—to the rest of the world, of live sheep to the Middle East and of live cattle to Indonesia. We are a very reliable supplier and we are essentially disease free. It was for this reason that Australia was so shocked a couple of years ago when this outbreak of equine virus hit the horse industry in general.

Who can forget that a country like Japan, with its proud racing history, was a country that had been crippled? The member for Wakefield talked about South Africa being crippled, and we never thought it would happen to us because we had such measures in place. But I do recall that great day a couple of years ago when two Japanese horses fought out the finish of the Melbourne Cup. Delta Blue beat Pop Rock, both Japanese imported horses for the race, which had gone through security. Damien Oliver, a great young Western Australian jockey whom I used to know when I was training down at the Ascot Racecourse, rode the second place horse and was so magnanimous in running second to the other Japanese horse. But Japan has had a problem with equine flu virus for many years. We know that there are going to be a number of horses coming from all over the world this year but not from Japan because there are still concerns about the Japanese racing industry and the equine flu virus.

We are getting horses from Europe and Ireland. In the past, we have had horses from Argentina. Lee Freedman trained a very good Argentinian horse called Savage Toss, which won a number of races in and around Melbourne. We have been very strong on quarantine security for horses for a long time, but the problem did manifest itself. I understand that the Callinan inquiry revealed that, even with all the security at the quarantine station, it appears that there were flaws. Some of the measures taken have now had to be addressed as a result of this outbreak. I believe there was an occasional track rider who used to work casually at the quarantine station who then left the facility, and that is one of the reasons they believe this virus spread from the quarantine station and throughout the horse industry. It had a devastating effect.

To date, the federal government has spent something like $365 million or $385 million on the industry to address this issue. Trainers, jockeys, reinsmen, grooms, farriers, horse transporters, vets and all of the people in the industry in my state took a severe knock from this because, even though it did not reach Western Australia, we had what was called a stand still order on all our horses. You could not transport a horse anywhere in Western Australia. There were people caught in the north-west, for example, at picnic race meetings who had to stay there with their horses because they could not move them around Western Australia, even though the disease was not there.

Unless you have been a horse trainer or involved in the industry, it is difficult to imagine the impact of this. You get a very expensive horse; let us say you paid $100,000 for the horse. You spend thousands on getting it to the racetrack. It is ready for a race; it is ready to win a race. The minimum stake in Perth at the moment is $50,000. Now imagine that you cannot race your horse. Not only would it take away a large opportunity to recoup some of your outlaid moneys but it also would not do the horse any good. The horse is absolutely trained to the minute. It is like a coiled spring—ready to get onto the racetrack and do its work. It cannot race, so you then have to let it down by taking away its high-performance food so that the horse cools and goes off the boil. By the time you are actually allowed to race again, it could take several more months to bring the horse, like an athlete, to its peak performance. Some of these horses only race as two-year-olds. Some horses come good at three and some horses come good at four or five, but you might have missed that window of opportunity for a young horse. For example, fillies quite often do not go past three years. What are you going to do with an expensive horse when you are out of the game for six months? I am sure your wife would tell you that you are never going to get involved in the racing industry again after having wasted so much money.

I also speak about these bills with a special interest because my electorate of Canning has probably the largest number of people training horses for the trotting industry in Western Australia. The Pinjarra Trotting Club has regular meetings. It is about an hour from Perth, so it is a central racing point for trotters—or pacers as they really should be called, because they do not trot anymore. They are in hopples and they pace, but they are affectionately called trotters. In my electorate, most of the rural properties of five or more acres have a track where the horses are jogged up. A lot of people shift out of town so that they can train their own trotter. They are called owner-trainers. Some of them only have one or two horses. They might breed one and jog it up themselves to get it into a position where they can then get a good reinsman to drive it in races.

I also have a very good thoroughbred racing industry in my area. The Pinjarra Race Club is one of the best country tracks in Western Australia. The Holmes a Court family’s stud, at Keysbrook, is located in my area, as are many other very good studs. It is not just thoroughbreds; it is the pleasure horses—the connemaras, the ponies, the polo horses, the campdrafting horses and all of the novelty horses, such as the paint horses. There are a whole range of horses in my electorate of Canning. There are many pony clubs and eventing venues where they do dressage and bring their horses to a very high level of discipline. It is with quite a vested interest that I speak on these bills because, as I said, even though Western Australia did not have the EI disease, we are very mindful of the fact that it is in Australia now and it is probably lying latently somewhere, like most of these diseases do, ready to be brought to the fore again under the right conditions and the right circumstances. We are aware that, for example, in Queensland, the problem does not just confine itself to the normal sorts of diseases we are talking about now. Who could forget that famous trainer Vic Rail and his horse Vo Rogue? Vic caught the horse’s disease, which had crossed species, and died. We are suddenly finding a similar cross-species disease in Queensland now and the industry is under threat again, so the measures in these bills are very important.

In turning to the substance of the bill, I will not trawl over too much of what many of the other speakers have already said so very eloquently. Also, I agree with much of what they have said. The bill introduces a levy for the initial registration of horses under the terms of the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, EADRA, to help repay the Commonwealth for financial assistance in the event of a disease outbreak. The bill provides for the collection of a levy by horse registration bodies, which will pay these levy payments to the Commonwealth. The bill imposes penalties for unpaid levies and provides for remissions of any penalties. It also provides for the gathering and collecting of information and documents, together with a strict liability offence for the failure to comply et cetera.

As I said, this is arguably the fourth largest industry in Australia. But one thing that the opposition have made clear today is that we are opposing this bill not because we do not believe that there should be a mechanism to deal with disease outbreaks but because we believe that the model is flawed. You only have to look clearly at the model to see that it is flawed. The largest number of horses in Australia are not the high-income earning horses—the thoroughbreds, the trotters and the stud horses—but the pleasure horses. There is going to be and is deemed to be an unfair levy on those involved in an industry where there is no financial return. Winning a ribbon or a cup at the local pony club does not do a lot to pay for the float, the petrol, the feed, the farrier’ work or the vet’s work. So there is an unfair and unequal burden on the pleasure horse industry. I do not think the government has thought this out very well. This is why the opposition are saying that this legislation should go to a Senate committee, which will think about a better and fairer mechanism by which to apply this levy.

I have contacted my racing industry people in the electorate of Canning—the Byford Trotting Complex, the secretary of the Pinjarra Race Club and turf club, as well as the Mundajong thoroughbred training association. They say that the collection mechanism and all the compliance work that will go with this legislation will be an additional burden on them. They believe that it is over and above what is fair in terms of its application. We are signing a blank cheque with this legislation. No specific figures have been mentioned. What is being said is that the cost of the levy will be based on the number of horses registered in a 10-year period as established by EADRA and divided by the cost of the measures. What an open-ended formula that is. We should be looking at a more specific and fairer mechanism to find out the real costs of this measure so that we can deal with the collection of a levy in a fair manner in the future.

Not all sectors of the industry have signed on to this idea, as we have already heard from the previous speaker, the member for Wakefield, although some are intending to. There is concern about a feral population of horses—300,000 brumbies—in Australia. There are probably brumbies in the ranges not too far from this place. I expect that there would be a huge population of brumbies roaming the outback and Kakadu. What if a disease got into the brumbies, donkeys and mules that live out there unchecked? Certainly no-one is paying for them. They would be the time bomb ticking away. The fact is that that has not been thought out very well at all. Who is responsible for them? Is it the Commonwealth? These animals are quite often on crown land. Is it the station owner who does not really know how many horses he has on his place? When shooters are brought in to get rid of these animals, that causes a lot of problems with animal rights groups, who suddenly say that this is a terrible thing. So there are a lot of open-ended questions that the Senate inquiry will flesh out—much to the disagreement of the government. You have to think these things out before you start charging people money and putting levies on them when you are not sure how they will work.

Mr Shorten interjecting

Mr RANDALL —I am sure that all the ex-union executives have the answer to everything, and we may well hear their response shortly. At the end of the day, what this legislation will do, which is what we are looking to support—

Mr Shorten interjecting—

Mr RANDALL —I suppose there is a brumby in Victoria that you would want to put down very quickly, but that is not something that you could recommend here. The response levy will provide for the Commonwealth to transfer funds to the Australian Animal Health Council, the AAHC. This will be part of the horse disease response levy collection, which this bill does address. It replaces the existing subsection and provides that the AAHC has an obligation to apply a Commonwealth payment in accordance with priorities. The following are the priorities under the existing subsection: the first priority is to reimburse the AAHC for costs that the council incurs; the second priority is to discharge liabilities by non-government bodies to the Commonwealth under EADRA; and the third priority is the ability to make payments to research and development organisations or to promote and maintain the health of animals. That is very important because there has to be a strategy put in place so that, if a disease outbreak occurs again, we can deal with such a widespread emergency.

At the end of the day, unlike those on other side, we do not just sign blank cheques and go along with thin ideas. Even after having thought about it for some time, the government has come back with nothing better, sadly. As a result, we are going to put some flesh on this legislation and make sure that it can be recommended as fair and equitable. I am sure those on the other side will want things to be fair and equitable.

The proposed legislation enables funds to be raised directly from the horse industry in order to repay the Commonwealth for any future emergency. The idea is, in principle, good, but the collection mechanism is flawed. I commend this bill but not the collection method. We need to get on with making sure that there is a proper plan in place for the future. This is very important for the future of all the equine industries in Australia and for the biosecurity of Australia.