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Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Page: 6928

Mr COULTON (7:49 PM) —I would like to commend the member for Maribyrnong for his speech because he has undoubtedly, in the last 20 minutes, highlighted exactly what is wrong with the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008. In a 20-minute speech, he has allocated 100 per cent of his time to 20 per cent of the horses in Australia. He completely neglected to mention the pony clubs, campdrafters, cutting horses, pleasure horses and every kid that has a horse in the backyard. He very cleverly highlighted the money in racing, but he expects the poor parents that have a couple of kids at pony club to pay for the sins of the racing industry.

I welcome the opportunity to speak tonight on the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill and the related bills, as the equine influenza outbreak and the subsequent issues in relation to EI have severely affected many constituents in my rural electorate of Parkes. Firstly, I would like to place on the record my opposition to these bills. This legislation proposes levy collection methods that are not accepted as fair and equitable by the overwhelming proportion of horse owners who would become liable to pay any future levy. I have had many, many of my constituents contact me in relation to this legislation, and all of them have been of the opinion that the leisure horse industry will be unfairly targeted under this system.

This legislation stems, of course, from the outbreak of equine influenza in Australia. The EI outbreak had disastrous effects for many horse owners, professional breeders, the racing industry and local communities in my electorate of Parkes. The timing of the outbreak had an adverse effect on many local show societies in my electorate, as many shows were scheduled at and around the time of the EI crisis. I know many of my constituents had real problems with their horses as showgrounds went into lockdown and many people were stuck.

One of my constituents, who lives in Dubbo, has told me of her particular experience, which I would like to relate to the House as it is a good example of how some residents were affected during the crisis. This woman had taken her two children to the Parkes Showground to compete in the equestrian events at the show. Her children are avid riders, and they often spend weekends travelling to events. On this particular occasion they arrived at Parkes Showground on Friday evening unaware of what was about to happen. One hour before they got to the showground, a Centennial Park resident riding school instructor arrived with horses that were suspect, so everyone had to sit tight and wait. On the Saturday, a decision was made by riders not to travel and to wait until Centennial Park veterinarians approved any movement. The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries was also made aware of the situation. My constituent informs me that, although all of the DPI staff were pleasant, no-one seemed to have any idea of the impact of the disease or how contagious it really was. The local vet was contacted but was unable to assist with the treatment required for sick horses.

At the time, all of those stranded in the Parkes Showground felt that a lot of information given by the different bodies was contradictory. The horse owners had to fight to get the DPI vet to the grounds to confirm that the horses from Sydney were carrying EI. When it was finally determined that they were carrying EI, 50 days of quarantine began for those horses held at Parkes Showground. No real assistance was given in caring for the horses at this particular showground and no financial assistance was given to the horse owners. My constituent, who lives and works in Dubbo, had to make a 300-kilometre round trip every day in order to be at her office during work hours and with the horses at night. From her perspective, the whole thing was incredibly costly and time consuming. And she was not the only one affected in this way. Many other horse owners across the country were left in the same position.

The impact of the outbreak spread far further than just to mothers and their children at local shows. The rural racing industry was also hit hard, with many more race days in my electorate cancelled as the movement of horses had to stop given the highly contagious nature of EI. The Dubbo Turf Club certainly felt the effects of EI. They had to cancel their biggest annual event, Derby Day, and they lost two other major events, the Gold Cup and the Melbourne Cup, and had to go nine months without any income stream. The club’s staff numbers had to be cut by 50 per cent, much-needed renovations were put on hold and their function rooms were not able to be utilised due to the quarantine restrictions. And Dubbo was not alone. For some of the smaller local race clubs in my electorate, their only race meeting of the year had to be cancelled, which also led to huge financial losses. It was also a shame for residents of communities who had to cancel their races, as the local race day is often a highlight of the year’s social calendar for many of us in the bush.

It was also a very difficult time for horse trainers, who often rely solely on their racing horses for income. Another group of horse owners affected were those who compete in polocrosse competitions. Despite common stereotypes, polocrosse is not just a sport for the wealthy, and many country residents who play the game were left without their sport and the socialising that goes with it during the outbreak. Others affected include farriers, feed suppliers, vets, event operators and saddlery suppliers. And a horse dentist at Coonabarabran who I spoke to was severely impacted, as he was unable to treat horses in the area.

It is clear that the EI outbreak was a terrible occurrence for many people and caused significant social disruption as well as negative economic impacts. There were also huge issues after the outbreak with the management of the compensation payments. Some money was made available to assist those affected, yet the administration of this money was a nightmare, and many of those who were deserving of assistance failed to obtain any of the funding. One group that could apply for assistance was local show societies, yet many were knocked back, despite having credible grounds for needing assistance. Mr David Moor, President of the Agricultural Societies Council of New South Wales, has informed me that just some of the New South Wales shows to miss out on assistance included Pambula, Bulli, Bemboka, Temora, Dungog, Jerrawa, Bulahdelah, Casino, Ashford, Camden Haven, Lithgow, Leeton and Berrigan.

Earlier I mentioned the Parkes Showground, where my constituent was stuck with her horses for 50 days. The Secretary of the Parkes Show Society, Kaye Bird, contacted me because the results of their claims for financial assistance to recover costs incurred in the loss of the 2007 Parkes Show have been most disappointing. Parkes had to cancel their entire show due to the outbreak, with less than 12 hours notice. Some of the costs that they incurred included: radio and television promotion, $5,045; entertainment, $6,273; judges’ expenses, $1,578; printing of schedules and tickets, $6,570; security, $638; telephone, $150; prize money, $587; New South Wales ambulance, $2,921; showjumping, $3,225; ribbons, $948; and public liability insurance, $6,234—a total of $34,169. All of these were direct costs which would have been covered by their gate entry fee, and now they have no means of recovering this money. So clearly there was something not right in the administration of the financial assistance.

Another issue that has been raised with me by constituents in relation to the financial assistance made available after the EI outbreak concerns taxation. For those show societies who were able to secure assistance, a tax file number had to be given as part of the paperwork. Many local show society members had to give their personal or business tax file numbers, even though the money was going straight to the show society. Come tax time, this money is treated as income, and many of the individuals who were just trying to help out now need to sort this issue out with their accountants.

It is evident that the entire EI outbreak was a complete disaster from the time it got into Australia in the first place to the containment of the disease and with the financial and social impact it had on many communities. I agree that it is our responsibility as elected members of parliament to do all we can to ensure that something like this does not happen again and that if it does we learn from our mistakes and have a viable and sensible plan in place. I do not believe that this legislation is the answer, and I think we must carefully avoid implementing policy on the run.

If this legislation is passed, it will mean that every single horse owner in the country will have to pay that little bit extra to keep their animal. The many pleasure and hobby horse owners who live in my electorate would be liable for the greatest financial burden under the levy proposal. Under the proposed bills, if a similar EI outbreak were to occur then 80 per cent of the costs to industry would be passed to the pleasure, performance and hobby sector, with only 20 per cent of the costs passed to the racing sector.

Clearly, this is not a fair or equitable distribution, and it would appear that the legislation is taking a swipe at country families. Many of my horse-riding constituents have already been badly affected by drought and have found it that much more difficult to manage the costs of horse feed. Increased petrol prices have also made it that bit more expensive for a mother and father to take their kids and their horses to their local show, pony camp or polocrosse match. If things continue along this trajectory, there will be fewer and fewer children involved in horse riding and eventing, which will be a great shame.

I can speak from firsthand experience of how fantastic it is for kids to be involved with their local pony club or show. When I was young, I often attended these events in Warialda, and when I became a father all three of my children were members of the Warialda Pony Club. I believe that having your kids involved with horses gives them wonderful opportunities. I know that owning a horse taught my children about the responsibilities that go with having to look after a large animal, with all of the feeding, riding and grooming rituals that are part of the daily care that a horse requires.

Being involved with horses and pony camps also teaches children to work with others and gives them opportunities to represent their local area at competitions all across the state. Going to the pony club or riding at the show is an integral part of many country kids’ childhoods, and we should be doing all we can to encourage these activities. This legislation will make it harder for these great traditions to continue, because it will increase the costs for families who have horses. It may mean that some families will have to give up their horse-riding activities, and as a result pony club and showjumping events may no longer happen in country towns. That would be a great shame not only for the children who benefit from these activities but also for their families and the wider community. Horse-riding events often give parents the opportunity to come into town, to socialise with other families and to enjoy watching their children compete. At most of these events, there is usually a local service group, whether it is the Lions Club, Country Women’s Association, the Boy Scouts or the Apex club, who might run the canteen or the barbeque during the competitions or the pony camp. Quite often these horse events provide service groups with a solid opportunity to raise much-needed funds, and without them many volunteer groups may struggle.

This legislation has the ability to cause huge problems for many of my constituents. Whilst I recognise that we need to learn from what happened in the past, I do not believe that placing a levy on every new horse registered in this country is the answer. The Callinan report, which examined the EI outbreak, found that, while the cause of the outbreak could not be definitively determined, the most likely cause was a failing within quarantine processes. The logical response to this issue is to have a very serious look at our quarantine measures and to ensure that the proper systems are in place to lessen the chances of something like this occurring again.

The fact is that there is a much higher chance that equine influenza would be brought into this country as a result of horseracing, given the international nature of the industry; however, this legislation fails to address this issue, applying the levy to every new horse registered in Australia, regardless of its use. I do not believe that the members of pony clubs and owners of recreational horses in my electorate should carry the financial burden for any outbreak that may occur. That is why I am opposing these bills. I join with my colleagues on this side of the House in demanding that the government consult further with the industry to come up with a more equitable outcome.