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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 6961

Mrs HULL (9:57 AM) —I rise in the House today to speak on issues that emanate from the introduction of 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. I want to speak to some of the issues that took place during the outbreak that occurred and about what I certainly believe to be an inequity with the way in which this levy is proposed to be collected. The method proposed for the collection of this levy is meant to be fair and equitable. However, far from that, I believe that the overwhelming proportion of horse owners who would become liable to pay any future levy really would not profit from it or really are not in the mind’s eye of the reasons for this levy.

There is no doubt that the racing industry is extremely important to the Australian economy and to social life within Australia, and the thoroughbred industry is also an extremely important industry; however, they do get a fairly concise and sometimes very rich income from the activities undertaken in the racing sector. Horses in harness racing and those in thoroughbred racing et cetera make up only about 20 per cent of the total number that come within the group from which this levy is to be collected. The other 80 per cent belong to the families—the mums, dads and kids—who are involved in various forms of dressage, pony club, polocrosse and general horse activities, and it is these people who would be charged with making up the balance of this levy. In my opinion, that is certainly not equitable. A potentially higher risk is associated with the thoroughbred sector. That sector involves imported race horses and shuttle stallions, which have a mandatory requirement for live joining, as opposed to horses for domestic use only.

In Australia the number of horses is estimated to be around 1.2 million. The total number of horse registrations per year, including pony club registrations, is estimated to be between 50,000 and 60,000. In the 2005-06 breeding season there were over 29,000 thoroughbred mares that produced almost 18,000 foals, of which 13,618 were registered. Even when this bill as proposed is implemented, it will result in perhaps only up to 50 per cent of all foals born being subject to the levy while the others will not be subject to the levy at all.

The total horse registration reveals that the majority—approximately 80 per cent—are with breed associations or pleasure performance-riding groups such as pony clubs, cutting, reining and campdrafting, as I have indicated. Why is it that they should be wearing a disproportionate amount to ensure that this disease or exotic diseases are counted when in fact, if their horses get equine influenza, they just put them in the paddock? Generally it is only an old, frail or fragile horse which will lose its life as a result of EI. It does not make any great difference to what they are doing. Horses were confined to many properties right across my electorate. I had people ringing my office daily about problems—they had gone down into Victoria to have a polocrosse meeting and were not able to come back. They were there for weeks and weeks. They were taken away from their businesses and their families, and they did not have enough money to properly feed the horses or enough money to accommodate themselves. They did not want to leave their horses with anybody else under the circumstances, so they had to bear a lot of the cost of EI. In fact, they gain no income from the horses; they are generally a pleasure pursuit industry.

The issue for the racing industry was the threat of being shut down. Of course it would be a big impost and would have a big impact on the Australian economy, with the way people’s gambling choices are today. It is quite extraordinary how much money is invested every day in gambling at the TAB or on the tote. It is a huge amount of money. It is a huge amount of money coming back in taxes to governments as well. There is ample opportunity to gamble in any way, shape or form. If you shut down the racing industry, you clearly create an enormous impact on the economy because those horses cannot race at that time. That is the problem they experienced. Why should the pleasure industry have to pick up the majority of this cost when, for them, their horse will get over EI and it just means confining them to a paddock and not moving them? Why should they pick up the majority of the cost? Just how many community events would be impacted upon during the shutdown was not recognised, yet we seem to be interested only in shoring up one particular sector of the industry. That the costs were borne by the community as a whole has to be taken into consideration as a result of the suspension of our recreational horse events.

The great drawcard for the show circuit in rural areas is the ability to go to a show and compete in the equine events. All of those shows—which were scheduled, had their entries and events finalised, had their programs printed and had their prize money—were pretty much in dire circumstances and lost an enormous amount of income as a result of their not being able to proceed. Most rural shows are centred on equine events. They were generally not able to access compensation. If they had lost money, they were able to apply for compensation. Did they actually get it? I think not. The communities and livelihoods of many of the businesses in the towns, which are supported by local activities, were certainly impacted upon and their losses were not recognised. The agricultural show societies and the horse transport companies particularly experienced great losses as a result of the cancellation of these horse events.

In the Riverina last year when the equine influenza outbreak was impacting on the local horse owners, my office was inundated with people inquiring about various issues. The problem that I had was the jurisdiction between state and Commonwealth. It is the state who issues the permits and allows the travel. I had many conversations in my office when people were complaining, ‘Why is it that trotters and racehorses can move from here to there, yet I can’t take my horse from one paddock, where there is no feed, to another paddock?’ I have here some of my electorate office feedback forms on this exact issue of the inequity that was dealt to many people during the outbreak of equine influenza. There is no doubt that the equine influenza outbreak was a major issue, particularly for New South Wales and Victoria. It was an issue that led to the most extraordinary amount of trauma for many families because, when you are a horse person, it is a way of life—you love your animals and you are absolutely devoted to them. They felt that they had no say.

The Australian Horse Industry Council, the Australian Harness Racing Council and the Australian Racing Board are the peak horse industry representative bodies and are the only bodies in the horse industry that are eligible to become signatories to the EADRA. I have a problem with that because they do not represent everyone in the industry. People who are generally interested in horses and run them for pleasure do not get a voice on these councils. These councils are the big boys from the big end of town. The little guys get no say. They do not get a say as to what vaccine could and should be used and whether it should be a live strain or not or about what they believe is best thing to do for their horses. Some of these people are very concerned that their prize horses will be weakened by the vaccines that are accepted for use under the signed agreements. It is wrong that the Australian Horse Industry Council purports to represent these members. Most of them cannot go to the meetings where these decisions take place, and they are not informed of how these decisions are made or that decisions were made. Many members were quite shocked and surprised when they found out that this levy was going to be applied across the board and that they were going to pick up the majority of the cost.

I believe that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the former minister have tried to do their very best across this entire process. But I do not think that they have arrived at the right result. People involved with pleasure and hobby horses are not the ‘industry’. They are not represented by the bodies that are signatories to the EADRA. It is as simple as that. People in my electorate have expressed a lot of knowledge on these issues. I am thankful to the department for sparing some time to talk with me, which I thank the minister for. The minister—who is seated at the table this morning—provided me an opportunity to speak with the department on issues raised by my West Wyalong equine community. That community have quite a bit of knowledge and are quite up to speed with what is happening. They had, I thought, reasonable and genuine questions to put, and the department was able to address many of the concerns that they raised. But I am still concerned that a disproportionate amount of the cost will be shouldered by the pleasure horse industry. I do not believe that it makes up the so-called ‘industry’. That is the unfairness of it.

I believe absolutely that there needs to be a levy in the horse industry. There are levies in many areas—for instance, horticulture. Levies are part and parcel of a growing industry. Those who are part of an industry take a share in the advantages and milestones of that industry. It is about taking a market share in an industry that is created. It is about taking a share in the benefits from an export market for that industry. It is also about bringing better pest control and better opposition to residual diseases et cetera in an industry. All of those who are making a living out of that industry share in the levies. I am no stranger to levies. I have always been supportive of the idea that those involved in an industry should be part of making sure that that industry prospers, flourishes and grows, and a levy is quite a sensible measure to achieve that.

But how you apportion the levy is the question that I raise here today. It is about the fairness and equity of a levy system. There must be a way of recognising that almost 80 per cent of the people who will be paying this levy are, in general, mums, dads and families. I do not believe for a second that a levy is fair on them when they are not deriving an income from their involvement with horses. Yes, they are deriving pleasure. And there might be others here who would say that they do derive an income, but compare it with the amount of money involved in Sky TAB. It has been on in my house at times. Watch Sky TAB and see the amount of money that is gambled in every pool, whether it be greyhounds, the trots or thoroughbred horseracing. That is where the money is. Day in and day out, you can see in your local paper pages and pages of racing activity taking place and the money being spent in that area. This is not a mums and dads issue. The mums and dads issue is about enabling the costly part of feeding, grooming and agisting a horse and also providing riding lessons for a child so that they can have access to that love of their life. For a child to own and ride a horse is to be part of a horse activity. That is costly enough.

This levy imposes an increased cost on families. If their horse gets sick, they will put it in the paddock. If they lose the horse, so be it. The horse will not have cost that family hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is what the Waterhouse and Smith stables spend on a horse. There will not be millions of dollars paid for a two-year-old horse. I cannot believe that anyone would invest that sort of money in a horse when only one horse can win a race. I find that extraordinary. That is where the bulk of the money should be put up for this levy. That is where the real impact is felt in the industry. The industry needs to be more responsible for diseases that could shut it down for a time.

Equine influenza is dangerous, and it is very sad that we had a breakdown in quarantine. That enabled this disease to enter Australia. But we have to be fair, so I say to the members of the House that, whilst I do not doubt the intentions of the bill, it is unfair. We need to look at this issue and provide fairness and equity. We need to recognise that the pleasure performance and hobby sector are going to pick up the bulk of the cost of this bill. They may be responsible for moving their horses. They may attend a polocrosse meeting across the road from a horseracing track. I am not saying that they should not contribute. I am saying that the pleasure horse industry should contribute but not to the extent that they will if this bill is passed.

The levy should be commensurate with the level of risk. By all means, stop them from moving around—impose bans and say, ‘You are not going to move here or there.’ By all means, make sure that the majority of horses are vaccinated et cetera. But the pleasure horse industry should not bear the cost; the cost should not be the same across the board. I really believe that this bill has not addressed many of the concerns raised by the horse owners, particularly by those in my electorate of Riverina. There needs to be a rethink of this issue. I most certainly disagree with the content of this bill and the way it is inequitably spreading the cost of the risk across the industry in a way that, I believe, has the pleasure horse industry picking up the majority of the cost.