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Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Page: 6922

Mr SHORTEN (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services) (7:29 PM) —The bills before the parliament today—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—will enable the horse industry to be better prepared for exotic disease outbreaks, such as the equine influenza emergency which occurred last year. Australia’s fourth largest industry was knocked hard by equine influenza and it simply cannot remain vulnerable to another disaster or to the response which the previous government delivered last time. The legislation will give the industry certainty for resourcing and responding to emergency horse disease outbreaks, ensuring that it will enjoy the same arrangements as other leading livestock industries in responding to and eradicating disease. It will help the industry fund its obligations under the provisions of the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, the EADRA.

The peak horse industry representative bodies—the Australian Horse Industry Council, Harness Racing Australia and the Australian Racing Board—support the passage of these bills. These bodies are the only representative bodies of the horse industry that are eligible to become signatories to the EADRA. 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 this agreement, as are a number of the livestock industries, but not the horse industry. Similar arrangements apply to plant industries.

This legislation gives effect to a submission made to the former government in late 2006 by the Australian Horse Industry Council on behalf of the three peak industry bodies. The legislation will help the horse industry to have confidence in becoming a formal signatory to the EADRA and joining other major livestock industries that are parties to it. 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—if I can assist the member for Canning—set at a zero rate by regulation.

At the time of the outbreak of equine influenza, the horse sector and all those who depend upon it were left dangerously exposed because the sector was not a signatory to the agreement. One must ask: why did the previous government let this situation arise? But perhaps we should not be surprised, given its consistent neglect in many other areas that required the making of important decisions. Indeed, the minister responsible under the previous government certainly has had more success in his racing career and securing his post-parliamentary future than, indeed, in preventing the outbreak of equine influenza. Just over one year has elapsed and nothing seems to have changed in relation to those opposite. There is the same neglect, the same delay and the same ‘we don’t know enough about it’ attitude which gave us the equine influenza in the first place. Here we are trying to pass bills which offer certainty and protection to Australia’s arguably fourth largest industry, and yet again we get the same ‘wait-watchers’ diet of inaction by the opposition.

All sectors of an industry benefit from the eradication of an emergency pest or disease through lower ongoing disease management costs. A pony club horse is as susceptible to the disease as a thoroughbred is. A levy on horse registration is no different in principle to the wine industry’s levies where a grape is levied the same amount whether it is destined for the Penfolds Grange to grace the table of the Liberal Party or for the modest $10 bottle for the battler.

Mr Coulton interjecting

Mr SHORTEN —The National Party? I do not know what they drink; they probably drink Bundy. In other words, a disease does not discriminate between a pony club horse or a thoroughbred racing horse and neither does any proposed levy to help eradicate a disease.

The horseracing industry needs this. In particular, the horseracing industry and the people in it were severely affected by EI, and I wish to concentrate my remarks on this aspect of the industry. Horseracing is one of Australia’s oldest and most popular sports. In fact, the first organised thoroughbred meeting in this country was held in 1810 in Hyde Park, Sydney, with Governor Macquarie in attendance. Today, about two million Australians attend a thoroughbred meeting at least once per year and almost 500,000 attend at least one harness race meeting. In fact, I must add here that I fulfilled my attendance quota on Friday night at the Mooney Valley harness racing club, which is in the electorate of Maribyrnong. The Melbourne Cup is the race that stops the nation; it is viewed by 700 million people worldwide. There are many local annual cup days in many rural towns, which are huge events on the social calendar. There are 397 thoroughbred clubs. There are 116 harness racing clubs in Australia, which is more than in any other country in the world. These clubs are great organisations, many of whose committees and members work on a volunteer basis.

However, the Australian racing industry is also a major economic activity which makes a significant contribution to the national gross domestic product, employment and government revenue. The economic activity generated by thoroughbred racing and breeding alone contributes more than $5 billion to the national GDP. It is estimated that almost half of that amount—$2.2 billion—is generated in regional areas. Racing and breeding also help to sustain employment in many other areas of the economy. Let us not forget the feed merchants; the veterinarians; the farriers; the cleaners, who are members of the AWU; the hospitality workers; the transport companies; the caterers; the hoteliers; and, of course, the fashion industry. Australia’s thoroughbred-breeding sector is one of the largest and most successful in the world. Exports are an important part of the Australian industry, with Australian bloodstock highly regarded internationally. In 2006-07, some 2,378 thoroughbreds were exported from Australia on a temporary or permanent basis.

As I have said, horseracing is our fourth largest industry and many people earn their living from it. In fact, it provides full- or part-time employment for around 250,000 people—the equivalent of 77,000 full-time jobs. In 2006-07, we had 13,988 registered thoroughbreds. Whether it is a leading trainer with binoculars in hand monitoring the early morning fast work, a young country apprentice working for a thoroughbred breeder or the kitchen hand at the race club, so many individuals depend on Australian racing. We should never forget that, apart from the glamour of the Spring Racing Carnival in Victoria, the major cups, and the leading owners, trainers and jockeys, there are so many hardworking Australians involved in the industry trying to make ends meet.

Amongst others, I wish to acknowledge the workers who I organised in the racing industry for 14 years: the maintenance workers, the cleaners, the stewards, the barrier attendants and the stable hands. In my old job as Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, and as a director of the Victorian Jockeys Association for 10 years and patron of the Australian Jockeys Association, I was able to see firsthand the jockeys who do it tough. Throughout Australia, there are some 860 licensed jockeys who ride over 19,000 races at 2,690 race meetings at 370 racetracks across regional and metropolitan Australia. I am proud to have been heavily involved in improving the position of jockeys, such as by pursuing and delivering superannuation and retirement funds. But looking at the situation of the many jockeys that were affected by EI is very eye opening.

The Australian Jockeys Association is the representative body of jockeys across Australia. The objectives of the AJA are to raise the profile of jockeys as elite professional athletes; promote safety, industrial health and education; and negotiate and develop Australia-wide protection for riders, including insurance—particularly more favourable public liability rates—superannuation and a retirement fund such as we have already delivered in Victoria.

I think it is important when we talk about this legislation to mention the contributions of some of the individuals who work so hard for the advancement of the industry and the workers with whom I have worked—Neville Wilson, the father of Victorian jockeys, still riding and the president of the association; Des O’Keeffe, the highly capable chief executive officer; Ned Wallish, who has not been so well lately, the former executive officer of the VJA; Ross Inglis, who consistently makes a contribution to racing; John ‘Bluey’ McHugh, the chief barrier attendant at Moonee Valley, who has recently retired from his job at Australia Post; and John Paul Blandthorn, the organiser of the AWU in the industry. The AJA’s current goal is to get the racing industry better protection and support in place for its smashed riders. I am sure those people I just mentioned will be successful in their goal, because they have the best interests of the workers and the industry at heart.

When most of the Australian public think of jockeys they think of the big names—the Darren Beadmans, Shane Dyes, Damien Olivers and Craig Williams. They see disciplined athletes who work at their trade, but they also see the benefits—the glamour of winning the major races, the fame, the newspaper headlines and indeed the promise of financial security. But for the vast majority of Australian jockeys the reality of a riding career means an irregular income, regular injury, major insurance costs, equipment and travel expenses, pressure to remain fit and on their weight, and limited career prospects after an early retirement. Jockeys’ incomes derive from a riding fee per race of $130 to $160 and a five per cent share of prize money for stake earners. Although prize money can range from $4,000 for first place at a country race—$200 for the jockey—and up to more than $3 million for the Melbourne Cup, jockeys do not ride winners every day. Imagine a job where you are expected to be available to work 363 days a year and artificially keep your weight 20 per cent underweight. It is a job fraught with danger.

Mr Coulton interjecting

Mr SHORTEN —Some in this place would find that very difficult, I suspect. Jockeys suffer at least one body fracture in their career. In fact, the AJA says that 89 per cent of jockeys have suffered at least one serious fall during their career. A study by the Victorian Institute of Sport, commissioned by Rob Hulls, the racing minister, found that jockeys typically have a bone density equivalent to that of an 80-year-old woman. Combine that with getting up at 4 am six days a week and travelling more than 160,000 kilometres a year. The average riding career of a jockey is only 10 years, with no job security beyond that. And the Australian Jockeys Association says that jockey numbers have declined by 43 per cent in the last nine years, with new starters declining by nine per cent. They anticipate a continuing trend of declining jockey numbers if industry does not take the chance to protect and improve conditions for jockeys.

In this regard, as I prepared for this legislation I noticed that the AJA last week launched a national campaign, ‘Racing for our Lives’, where Australian jockeys are taking a stand to improve protection in one of Australia’s most dangerous industries. The AJA has released a three-point plan to improve jockey protection by (1) ensuring that all jockeys have access to a personal accident scheme; (2) ensuring that all jockeys’ public liability insurance costs are covered; and (3) extending the National Jockeys Trust to ensure that jockeys and their families are supported in the event of injury, death and illness. Under the AJA’s plans these improvements would be funded by a modest one per cent increase in the percentage of prize money allocated to jockeys. An international analysis shows that Australia’s jockeys are amongst the lowest paid in the racing world. This would seem to warrant serious consideration by the racing authorities.

So, of course, the impact of the August 2007 equine influenza outbreak was a disaster for jockeys. It was a disaster for the Australian horseracing and horse-breeding industry. Its emergency financial assistance was modelled on natural disasters, in fact, such as Cyclone Larry. We should acknowledge the great help provided by public servants from the Commonwealth departments, in particular FaHCSIA, the department for which I am the parliamentary secretary. The direct costs incurred by the industry and by the Commonwealth in merely containing the outbreak totalled more than $130 million. The industry and its participants have lost many more millions of dollars of income due to the resulting cancellations and restrictions on racing and breeding activities.

I remember the day. By midday 26 August last year all weekend race meetings in Australia had been cancelled, and in the first week 50 thoroughbred race meetings were lost. In New South Wales and Queensland no metropolitan race meetings were held for three months. In New South Wales alone 193 thoroughbred race meetings were lost—30 metropolitan, 31 provincial and 132 country. This included the Sydney spring carnival, from which the industry traditionally derives a large portion of the annual wagering income that is used to fund all New South Wales racing clubs. In addition, 250 harness race meetings were lost in New South Wales and a further 81 race meetings were lost in Queensland. For the majority of participants, who live and work in New South Wales and Queensland, no race meetings meant no or significantly reduced incomes.

Whilst the owners and trainers struggled through the disaster that was equine influenza, it had a more devastating effect on the jockeys, the stablehands and the workers at the bottom of the tree in racing in Australia. The jockeys, for example, who earn a fee per race plus a percentage of the race money—that is of course if they are successful—were deprived of their earnings. Trainers’ incomes were substantially reduced, although of course their expenses were essentially unchanged. A report by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics estimated that the direct costs of the equine influenza outbreak during the initial response period, involving containment and eradication through restricted movement, reached $500,000 per day for the disease control alone plus $4.6 million per day in forgone income for businesses affected by equine influenza, including racing, farming and recreational businesses. The racing industry derives 70 per cent of its income from wagering. The outbreak substantially reduced wagering income not just in New South Wales and Queensland but throughout Australia, in particular in Victoria, as bets are taken on the national program.

In March 2008, the Rudd government announced that debate on the bills was postponed until after it had considered the findings of the commission of inquiry into the August 2007 outbreak of equine influenza in Australia, called the Callinan inquiry. Justice Ian Callinan was appointed by the previous government in September last year to investigate the outbreak of equine influenza. He was asked to report on the circumstances contributing to the outbreak of the disease and the need for any strengthened biosecurity procedures for the quarantine management of imported horses.

Mr Brendan O’Connor interjecting

Mr SHORTEN —Indeed, the former minister has gone into the industry. The Callinan report into equine influenza found clear inadequacies in Australia’s quarantine system, best described in Commissioner Callinan’s own words. The opposition has not referred to this, but it is important that it is on the record. The former Justice Callinan said:

What I describe bespeaks an organisation that lacked clear lines of communication between those responsible for formulating procedures and work instructions and those responsible for implementing them …

This report is a scathing assessment of aspects of our quarantine and biosecurity arrangements, in particular for horse imports prior to August 2007. This does not reflect well on the previous government’s stewardship of the great Australian racing industry. Whilst there is no clear finding, Justice Callinan does make clear that the most likely way that equine influenza reached Australia was from horses imported from Japan.

The government’s response to the Callinan report was provided in a ministerial statement to this House by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the member for Watson, on 12 June 2008. The minister advised the House that the government had agreed to every single one of Commissioner Callinan’s 38 recommendations. The minister said that he would ensure that the government’s response was implemented in full and without delay. We appointed Professor Peter Shergold AC, former Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, to independently audit the implementation of the government’s response.

On 11 June, the Australian government, the Rudd government, announced that it would not levy the horse industry to repay its share of costs of dealing with the 2007 equine influenza outbreak. As the horse industry was not a signatory to Australia’s EADRA at the time of or during the outbreak, it would not have been proper to legislate retrospectively to recover the industry’s share of costs. In announcing this decision, the minister noted that a year earlier, in 2006, the horse industry had proposed to the Howard government a levy arrangement to protect the horse sector against the impacts of emergency animal disease outbreaks. Under the previous government, arrangements were not made to sign up the horse industry to EADRA and to establish the sector’s emergency disease preparedness. Whilst the intention at the time was that the horse industry and the government would share the costs for the response to and eradication of equine influenza, the Rudd government decided that it would not be fair to ask the industry to pay for those costs, given that they were not a signatory to the agreement—but we can have no more Pearl Harbours in the horse industry.

The response of the coalition is: ‘Let’s have another inquiry.’ In fact, another important part of the government’s response to the inquiry is already well underway. On 19 February this year, the minister announced a comprehensive, independent review of Australia’s quarantine and biosecurity systems, which is being led by Mr Roger Beale AO.

I congratulate the minister on his approach and his diligence in ensuring that the government’s response to the important issue of exotic disease outbreaks was comprehensive by ensuring that better arrangements exist into the future to protect the important horse industry. I commend not only the public heroes of racing but also the unsung heroes of racing, the jockeys, the stablehands, the cleaners, the barrier attendants and the members of the unions, who promote better conditions in the industry. I commend the thoroughbred owners, I commend the trainers, I commend the punters and I commend all of the people who have a share in a syndicate in a horse. And, to protect all of these great people, I commend the bills to the House.