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Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Page: 6934

Mr HAWKE (8:16 PM) —I rise to join with my colleagues in opposing the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and related bills being debated cognately before the House tonight. I do not claim to be a great horse lover. In fact, I can confirm to the House that, although the saying is that when you get thrown off a horse you should just get back on, when I was young I got on a nag, got thrown off and did not get back on. I have never liked horses since, so I can confirm that that is quite an accurate and wise saying.

I rise on behalf of my constituency, including the suburbs of Box Hill, Nelson, Annangrove and Kenthurst. These are the semirural outskirts of Sydney, where there are high numbers of recreational horse owners and people who enjoy a rural lifestyle, on acreage of five to 10—sometimes 15—acres. These people are potentially impacted by these bills, and that is why I am here to speak on their behalf today.

It is the case that not one horse owner in Australia is responsible for the outbreak of EI. We do not know exactly where EI has come from, but we know that the horse owners themselves are not responsible. The reason that I rise to oppose the bills is that the measures proposed by the government seek to place the burden of cost and responsibility on the individual owners. I do not find that very satisfactory. Indeed, I would have expected that members opposite, being the party of the worker and the ordinary person, as they claim, would consider this quite a common-sense proposition: why burden every ordinary horse owner in Australia with a bill for something that they were not responsible for and had no control over? Intuitively, there is something missing from their arguments.

However, looking at the proposed legislation, there are some other concerns. Eighty per cent of the cost here is going to go to the pleasure and recreational horse industry and 20 per cent to the racing industry. From the representations I have received, I know it is the case that businesspeople with racehorses that were affected by EI were able to receive a rebate. Many registered horse associations—such as those for quarter horses, Arabs, Australian stock horses and Appaloosas—were not businesspeople and therefore were severely disadvantaged and without any form of compensation at all. Most people had to pay huge sums of money for expensive veterinary bills—I can confirm that from meetings with recreational owners all across my electorate—and agistment because of someone else’s mistakes.

These people have suffered enough. When you take into account all the costs that are associated with owning a horse—horses have been described to me as a form of black hole, and indeed they do sink money, just like a backyard pool—a horse can be a very expensive exercise for a family. Many people do this, and I think it is something that benefits a lot of families and children. I am not sure that imposing a hardship and a new tax on these families is very satisfactory at all.

I would like to note something for the House’s benefit that I think has not been considered, that I am aware of, in the contributions so far. I would make the simple point that the racehorse industry contributes about $150 million per year in revenue to the New South Wales state government. If you take into account all of the revenue that has been generated for all the other state and territory governments, perhaps we should not just be looking at owners and shifting the burden of costs onto the recreational owners and the recreational industries; we should be looking at the fact that state governments are making a lot of money out of the racing industry. They are receiving a large amount of money; perhaps they could make a contribution here. It might be something that the federal government could take up with them, with the high amounts of revenue they are receiving from the industry, particularly in New South Wales. Again, it does not seem fair or satisfactory that we place the overall burden on people who were not responsible for the outbreak and are not responsible for the problems. They already pay a lot to have horses and yet we are willing to slug them again in this way.

We do need to get our house in order in terms of quarantine. With respect to the Callinan report, there have been some very presumptive comments from members opposite about who is to blame for this. But there is no conclusive evidence one way or the other about where this came from, even though it is likely that it came from a quarantine failure.

There are a number of other objections that I would make to these bills. I have already stated that part of the unfairness of the bills is exposed by the figures that show that only a small proportion of the total number of horses are subject to levy collection. Eighty per cent of any liability would be recovered through the levy that would fall upon the pleasure and performance horse owners—and they do not derive any income from their horses. They are not businesses, they are not commercial activities, and they therefore would not be eligible for compensation in the event of a future disease outbreak. I note the contribution of the member for Lyons saying that this is a form of insurance for everyone in the country. But the reality is that the vast majority of people would not be eligible for any compensation, even though they had paid this particular levy. So there are real questions here of natural justice and why we should slug people who will not receive any particular benefit. There have been some claims about all the peak horse bodies in the country supporting this, but there are some concerns. We have seen that Thoroughbred Breeders Australia has some concerns about the way this levy is going to fall and are concerned that the burden does not fall on too few horse sectors.

I also have a concern about these kinds of measures coming from government. At this point in time, the levy is to be collected only as a one-off, but we know that governments have a tendency to continue to keep fiscal measures in place or extend them once they are in place. We have seen that before. Every time we pay income tax we are patently aware of that. I do accept the very real concerns of people who own horses and people in the horse industry in my electorate, in the rural suburbs, who say that they are worried that this will become an ongoing levy and that it will be seen as a form of revenue that the government is not prepared to give up over time.

Some other very valid points have been made to me about what may or may not happen. The fact is that there are estimated to be 1.2 million horses in Australia, and registrations are estimated at about 50,000 to 60,000. Only 20 per cent of the total number of horses that are registered nationally come from the largest commercial group, the Australian horse industry. Again I point out that the industry itself does generate a lot of revenue for state governments, and therefore there is a real issue to do with shifting the burden of cost onto this broad base but not seeking to reimburse the people in that broad base.

Another factor that has been raised with me is that the government has not really committed to what I would consider a consultative or collaborative approach in relation to this legislation. There are a number of very angry people out there who are concerned that this will be a factor in them deciding to no longer own horses or commit to owning horses in the future. As far as we are aware, the minister only wrote to horse owners on 11 June 2008. He basically said to horse owners that there would be no further assistance in the event of disease outbreaks if the industry failed to sign up to the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement.

I tend to be uninspired by that kind of approach from government. They are saying to the people who are feeling the pain, paying the bills and suffering from what may well have been government failure: ‘The government will no longer look after you in the future and therefore we expect you to fend for yourselves but also pay a levy, and you may not receive any assistance back from that levy.’ It is very uninspiring of the minister to behave in that way. I think he really needs to think outside the square and think about the state government revenues that are raised by the racing industry. Essentially, if you are a member of the Labor Party, putting the onus on the ordinary person, the person who is a recreational owner and does not derive any form of income from horse ownership, does not seem to be a very satisfactory arrangement.

Pleasure horses and hobby horses are not the industry. Those in the sector that supports the industry, such as farriers, feed suppliers, vets, event operators, trainers, breeders, tack equipment suppliers and all those associated industries, are the ones who would end up being liable for the greatest financial burden. Some of those industries are in my electorate. Some of them certainly have suffered and some of them have been eligible for assistance. But the experience of the vast majority of horse owners in my electorate is that they are not really going to be eligible for any sort of assistance or any form of rebate on any disease that may well break out in the future.

I was approached at the time of the outbreak of EI by recreational owners in my electorate who have serious concerns. They pay large sums of money to own horses and they do enjoy the lifestyle. They love their horses greatly. They were slugged at the outbreak of EI with veterinary bills and all of the costs associated with the disease. Now the government is proposing to slug them again for something they were not responsible for. It does not seem to be a satisfactory arrangement. I am happy to oppose these bills and support the horse owners in my electorate. I support the great facilities like Tall Timbers, run by Riding for the Disabled, which operates out of my electorate. I was happy to open a new building for them recently. That facility operates many horses and provides a wonderful service for the disabled in my electorate.

In summary, the government seems to be putting pressure on us and saying, ‘Why aren’t you acting? Why aren’t you doing something?’ I think we do support sensible action in relation to this matter. We do support the idea that there must be some provision made for the future. I do not think it is reasonable to rule out state governments, who receive windfall revenues from the racing industry, in that equation. Why are we not considering asking them to make a contribution to subsidise the cost of future outbreaks of disease? If we are forming an insurance fund, like the member for Lyons said, we may well draw a levy from people who would potentially be the most affected commercially. We may seek the involvement of state governments, who would potentially be looking at black holes in their revenue. The New South Wales state government derive $150 million from the racing industry. I am happy to rise in support of the rural areas in my electorate—Box Hill, Nelson, Annangrove, Kenthurst—and all of the recreational owners. I stand up for them against what I see as a pretty unfair levy on them for something they are not responsible for.