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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 6968


Mr BRUCE SCOTT (10:35 AM) —I rise today to speak on the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and cognate bills. I have been involved in the horse industry all my life, using horses not only for working on a property but also, I can reveal, as my mode of transport to school in my very early days of schooling in western Queensland. And, of course, representing the seat of Maranoa, horses are an integral part of work, pleasure and business.

When the impact of EI hit my electorate—in fact, hit Australia—it had devastating costs for many businesses and people. It is a disease that should never have entered Australia. It is quite obvious that the disease entered Australia through the use of shuttle stallions in the bloodstock industry. It was a very serious breakdown in our protocols and the administration of our protocols through the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

In fact, I first heard about it when people were advised at Morgan Park in Warwick in my electorate, where there were some 255 horses and 120 people for an equestrian event through that weekend. They were then locked down for the next five weeks. I shudder to even consider the impact of an exotic disease such as foot-and-mouth, should it ever enter Australia because of a breakdown in our quarantine system and the people who work in AQIS. I said directly to Minister McGauran at the time, ‘This is an absolute disgrace,’ because the impact of an exotic disease such as foot-and-mouth disease, should it ever enter Australia, would devastate our meat exports for possibly years to come. Obviously the minister at the time carried the responsibility—he is no longer in the parliament with us—and I expressed great anger at the fact that our quarantine system had broken down. The fact that we are an island nation is of great benefit to the export of many of our food products. I am pleased that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who has responsibility for this, is in the House today. I thank him for ensuring that the cost of the outbreak of equine influenza in Australia was not borne by the industry. Although I think he might have been intending to do that when he first became minister, I do commend him for listening to the concerns of the industry, the opposition and, I am sure, a wide cross-section of the horse industry in Australia. Out of fairness, the cost of eradicating the disease from Australia was rightly borne by the Australian taxpayers at the time.

In my electorate of Maranoa, I have some of the finest bloodstock in Australia. I have some wonderful thoroughbred studs in my electorate with a wonderful history of providing many cup winners in Brisbane, Sydney and the racing circuit around Australia, and I am very proud of that. In fact, right on the edge of my electorate the great Bernborough was bred and trained and he went on to win the Melbourne Cup. The Darling Downs in the eastern part of my electorate provides wonderful bloodstock for the thoroughbred industry. They were very much affected by this outbreak of equine influenza because it happened at the worst time of the year for many of them in the bloodstock industry. It was at the start of that period when they were mating mares to top stallions and they had bookings for mares. That is the way the breeding season works in the thoroughbred industry. For many of them there was a huge financial impact because they were unable to get the mares to the stallions. Of course, those mares not getting in foal because of the lockdown due to equine influenza will have a flow-on effect for many years to come.

Can I just look at some of the other horse industries in my electorate. There are sporting horse associations and, of course, the renowned Dalby Stock Horse Show is probably the premier stockhorse sale in Australia every year. They sell there once a year. It brings enormous economic benefit to the town of Dalby and, when the town is still suffering from the worst drought in a hundred years, that economic activity is very hard to measure. But that show was cancelled. People would come with their horses, they would talk about horses, they would trade horses and they would look at how they could improve their own stockhorses. There would be farriers, saddlers and tack sellers. There would be hospitality. The economic activity lost to the town of Dalby was a consequence of the lockdown due to equine influenza. The state polocrosse championships in Chinchilla, west of Dalby, were also cancelled. There was a similar effect on the hospitality industry—on the motels. That economic activity has a multiplier effect—if you spend a dollar, it multiplies by four or five in that community. The town of Chinchilla is suffering the effects of the worst drought in a hundred years. That economic activity was lost and many small businesses suffered dramatically because of the lockdown. Pony clubbers were unable to go to their pony clubs. It is a great activity for families. In fact, I started a pony club in my own district, aware of the importance of young children growing up with the lessons that they can learn through the pony club movement. They too were locked down, unable to take their ponies to competition events or even to that Sunday afternoon instruction at their local pony club. It is a major social event for many families and being able to participate in a pony club has a low cost to the family. I am very proud of the fact that I am a pony club instructor, was a regional chair and president of the district and established the Muckadilla Pony Club. It is not in action today, but it provided many years of great enjoyment and I think many great lessons were learnt by the children who participated in the pony club. Pony clubs were also affected by this.

Often not spoken about are the campdraft industries. I myself am quite amazed at the extent of the growth in campdrafting. They can get 500 or 600 nominations at a campdraft in a remote part of my electorate out in Canungra or Birdsville or up at Longreach. People will travel up to 600, 700 or 800 kilometres for the weekend for a campdraft, for a sporting event. They were unable to participate. In fact, I have just been out in that part of my electorate in the west, right out through as far as Birdsville. I arrived there and quite a few of the stockmen and people there were travelling right up to Camooweal—a day and a half’s drive—with horses for the National Bronco Branding Championships. Once again, it is a horse sport and it is a very old skill, but it has been kept alive by people with a great interest in horses and sporting activities—not registered horses, just horses off the parcel properties and people who breed them out of the sheer pleasure of being able to compete in a bronco-branding competition. It is an old skill. I have not found out who won it, but I am sure it will be someone from Maranoa, knowing the great stockmen in the west of my electorate and the passion that they have. We have held the title for a number of years. It is held every couple of years, and I am sure when I do find out it will have been someone from the west of my electorate out at Maranoa.

Contract musterers were affected. They are people who make a living with their horses by going to a property. That is the way they contract out their work in so many of the smaller pastoral properties today. But they could not operate. They were locked down and unable to derive an income for that period of the lockdown. The racing industry, which is the commercial end of the horse industry in Australia, was also locked down. Racing in my electorate is a great social event, as are so many horse events. That is the time when once a year the ladies will dress up and go to the local races and it really is a great social occasion. Many races, including the famous Birdsville races, had to be cancelled.

What amazed me about the lockdown was that the Birdsville races, some 1,800 kilometres from the outbreak at Morgan Park in Warwick in the east of my electorate, were locked down. If they were over the border in the Northern Territory, which is another couple of hundred kilometres west, the Birdsville races probably could have been held. I have to say, Minister—and you were not responsible at the time—that I was frustrated by some of those regulations. I could not see why, being so far removed from where the disease had been identified in the east of my electorate down into the Brisbane Valley, those races could not continue; but they could not.

People coming from Mount Isa got about 250 kilometres from Birdsville, spelled their horses overnight, and that was the night the lockdown occurred. People who work on stations and trainers from Mount Isa were locked down for five weeks in Bedourie with their horses, having to import horse feed. There was a similar situation for those coming out of Longreach and going down to Birdsville. They overnighted at Windorah, spelled their horses on the Cooper Creek—which I spoke about earlier in the Main Committee—and ended up being locked down for five weeks. There did not seem to be much commonsense about that. I wondered why they could not just go back to their stables up at Longreach, but instead they too were locked down, this time in the small community of Windorah. The lockdown might have had a bit of a commercial impact on the town, but there was a commercial loss to those people and their daily lives—they could not move, they had to look after their horses for five weeks. It was an enforced break from work; they had to do it.

All that is not to mention the money that is raised at these sporting events, whether it is a campdraft, bronco branding or the outback racing season—which starts this weekend, by the way. For those listening, you should, if you can, make it to Birdsville this weekend and Bedourie next weekend or the two on the weekend after. They are great outback racing weekends, and I know that they are already arriving in Birdsville. So often a third of the money raised at these events goes to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. These are communities that help themselves. I know that the federal government, in part, provides quite a substantial sum of money to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but last year the money raised from racing was lost. The money was not raised so the Royal Flying Doctor Service was impacted upon because of the impact of equine influenza.

Can I say something about the lockdown at Morgan Park in Warwick. I mentioned earlier that there were some 255 horses there for that weekend’s equestrian events, which included, if my memory serves me correctly, some of the trials leading up to the equestrian team selection for the Beijing Olympics. They too were affected. Morgan Park had to be locked down for five weeks and that also had an effect on our Olympic team and the trials that led up to the selection of the equestrian team for the Olympics.

Events like this often bring out the best in people, and the people of Warwick were absolutely fantastic. Simon Goddard and his team organised that weekend’s activities at Morgan Park and they then had the responsibility of ensuring that the lockdown was secure, that the horses that were there were able to be cared for and that the 120-odd people who were locked down with their horses were able to be fed. There were issues of sanitation and the removal of horse waste. It was a huge logistical exercise. Imagine all of a sudden having 250 horses and 120 people locked down in a sporting complex for five weeks. They cannot go home and they have to look after their horses. I remember at the time that all that they wanted do was make sure that all of their horses got EI tests and got them quickly, because until they were able to test that the horses were either immunised or free of equine influenza those horses were going to be locked down.

I want to commend the people of Warwick and all of the support team behind Simon Goddard. They made a magnificent effort. It really did bring the best out in people. They are wonderful people. They did not seek any recognition; they just did a job. They knew it was there to do—a disaster had occurred and they did not seek recognition. People in town were cooking stews and casseroles and providing food. All the food had to be checked on the way in for fear of contamination beyond the borders of the quarantine area. So, to Simon and all the team there in Warwick, I commend you for your efforts.

I mentioned earlier that Minister Burke is not asking the industry to pay for the cost of the EI outbreak and the containment and eradication of that disease from Australia. I commend him for that. To do otherwise would have been grossly unfair, and I do recognise that that is the position of this government.

I now come to the point of the levy itself. The proposal to impose a levy on registered horses is grossly inequitable. We have about 1.2 million horses in Australia and possibly 50,000 to 60,000 of them would be registered. The legislation will force people not to register their horses and many will not be captured by it. It will also unfairly impact on the sporting side rather than the commercial side of the horse industry.

I recall at the time of the outbreak that all the news focused on whether the Melbourne Cup would be run in 2007. There was never a great focus on the campdraft lockdown or the small pony clubs in North Queensland and the costs incurred by the families involved. It was all about whether the Melbourne Cup—the king of sports—would be run. The commercial side of the industry was getting all the financial compensation. We all want the Melbourne Cup to be run, but that demonstrated that there is a side of the horse industry in Australia which is very commercial and which involves millions and millions of dollars. On the other side there are the pony clubbers, the campdrafters, the bronco branding teams, the contract musterers and the station horses. They are part of everyday life. Like someone who plays golf and has a special set of clubs, these people have a horse. It is their hobby and their sport. It is wrong to levy these people in the sport and recreation sector in the same manner as we levy the commercial side of the industry.

An analogy has been drawn by members on the other side of the House with the meat industries and the honey bee industry, which are all subject to a levy that can be called on in the event of an exotic disease outbreak in their industry. Those industries involve commercial business operators. There is a clear distinction between people involved in the meat and livestock industries and the honey bee industry and sporting and recreational horse owners. Like the thoroughbred and harness racing industries, those businesses are selling a commercial product; they have a commercial side to their operation. We cannot make that comparison and say that the sporting side of the horse industry in Australia should be treated in the same way that the commercial side of the industry is treated.

We all recall that this disease entered Australia with the shuttle stallions coming from Japan to service mares in the bloodstock industry. It had nothing to do with the pony clubbers, the campdrafters or the bronco branders. There are two different, quite separate, clearly identifiable sectors in the horse industry in Australia. I ask the minister to take that into account in any further considerations about these bills. I do not support the bills in their current form because they are unfair. The sporting and recreational side rather than the commercial side of the industry will bear 80 per cent of the cost. The commercial side has the capacity to pay and was ultimately the source of the accidental introduction of equine influenza through the importation of shuttle stallions.