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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 6976

Mr IRONS (11:09 AM) —I rise to explain to the House the importance of the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and associated bills to my electorate of Swan. I congratulate the members for Maranoa and Forrest and all the other speakers for their contributions. I also note the presence in the House of the member for Canning, who made a significant contribution to the racing industry in Australia during his time as a trainer. It is good to see you here. The high number of members who have spoken about the subject shows the importance of the racing industry and the horse industry and associated businesses in Australia. Today I will outline the importance of the horse industry to Swan and remind the House of the significant impact of equine influenza in Western Australia. I will review the coalition government’s response to last year’s crisis. In this context, I will consider the bill that is currently before the House and put forward three aspects of the legislation that must be urgently reconsidered by the Rudd government.

Ascot and Belmont Park, the two major racecourses in Western Australia, are in my electorate of Swan. Ascot is the headquarters for racing in Western Australia. Situated eight kilometres east of the Perth city centre, and with the head office of the Western Australian Turf Club positioned directly opposite, Ascot is located within the boundaries of the City of Belmont. This also happens to be the seat of the Deputy Premier of WA, who is also the WA Treasurer. We believe he has been seen at the racecourse recently—in the last month—and he has also been spotted in the electorate. It must be an election year! That’s right, the WA state election is on this weekend.

Mr Randall —But he is in Cottesloe.

Mr IRONS —Thank you; I know that. Ascot is the grand old lady of Australian racecourses. Her committee buildings and grandstand look as majestic now as they did at the turn of the 20th century, when they were built. Racegoers during the summer months will enjoy picturesque gardens and magnificent facilities, including: the interstate and local bookmakers ring; an open-sided pavilion running the length of the main tote; nine superb alfresco dining and bar facilities specialising in fresh cuisine; and two tiered restaurants—‘The Terrace’ on the public floor and ‘Flying Colours’ for members—both of which offer racegoers fine cuisine and spectacular views of the track.

I do not know if the member for Maribyrnong will find any Penfolds Grange, which he spoke about yesterday, in those restaurants, but I am sure they can cater to his taste for ten-dollar bottles of wine if he orders early! It amazes me that the member for Maribyrnong can stand up in this House and use one of the products of another great Australian industry, the wine industry, to play the politics of envy with. Why would he attack a great Australian product and then pretend that none of the members of the government has ever tasted or sampled this fine product? Would he have the Australian people believe that neither he nor any of the members of the current government has ever tasted or even smelt that famous Australian product? The company that produces this product is a great Australian company that produces some fine Australian wines and earns export dollars for Australia. The member for Maribyrnong included that bit about wine during his talk on the equine bills, so I just wanted to acknowledge that in my speech as well.

Ascot’s 2,000-metre track is attractive, modern and well drained. It has a 300-metre inclining straight, which is regarded by experts as the toughest test of stayers in Australia. Belmont Park Racecourse is Perth’s winter racecourse. It has a circumference of 1,699 metres and a 333-metre straight. The track is situated in a prime riverfront position, with the facilities nestled between the city and the water. The racecourse falls within the boundaries of the town of Victoria Park. Belmont’s facilities are fully enclosed, ensuring that racegoers are warm and comfortable while they enjoy the spectacular views of first-class thoroughbred racing against the river backdrop. Thanks to its excellent drainage, which has ensured that race meetings are consistently held come rain, hail or shine, Belmont is renowned as arguably one of the best wet weather tracks in Australia, if not the world. The Ascot and Belmont racecourses are historic racing venues and are of significant heritage and cultural value to the people of Western Australia. People go to the races not just to bet or gamble but for the pleasure of watching the wonderful racing equine, the thoroughbred racehorse, compete at the highest level.

In fact, the historic Perth Cup—that gruelling 3,200-metre event—has been run since 1887. The first Perth Cup was won by First Prince—and I have been told he was stabled in my electorate. I encourage all honourable members to come to Perth and witness this fantastic spectacle of endurance, which is held each year on New Year’s Day. The 2008 event was won by Cats Fun, which was probably a good year for it to win the race as it looks as though it will be straddled by back-to-back premierships by the Geelong Cats in the AFL! The race was marred by a six-horse fall which resulted in two horses being destroyed and three jockeys being taken to hospital with minor injuries. The eventual winner had to hurdle one of the fallen horses. In the electorate of Swan there are 1,200 horse stalls registered, and a disproportionate 35 per cent of all thoroughbred racehorses in Western Australia are located in the electorate of Swan. Therefore, it is fair to say that horses are of some importance to the people of Swan, and I am sure we have a huge birthday party in Swan on 1 August every year in my electorate.

The horse industry is a large industry group employing many people. In fact, the racing industry is considered one of the largest employers in Australia—veterinarians, jockeys, trainers, reinspersons, farriers, track attendants, catering staff, livestock transporters, farmers, grain growers and steelmakers are just a few of the professions associated with this industry. Each of these professions represents jobs at stake for Australians and, more importantly, in the electorate of Swan. A Sydney Morning Herald article of 26 September 2007 stated that Centrelink had paid almost $1.4 million to people affected by the EI outbreak. This begins to paint a picture of the number of jobs dependent on this industry. This brings me to the threat posed to the horse population of Swan and Western Australia by the outbreaks of disease and in particular the outbreak of equine influenza last year. We must keep Western Australia equine disease free.

I will now give you some statistics on the Western Australian racing industry, including in the Swan electorate. In Western Australia last year 2,748 persons were registered with the racing and trotting industry. These people are the backbone of racing in Western Australia. The TAB turnover for the racing code alone was $295 million. In fact, in the 2007 racing year the Western Australian government pocketed $61.3 million in turnover tax. Surely the state government have a stake in this. They should look at releasing some of these taxes to pay for the levy, as they are probably the biggest winner out of the industry and have the most to lose from it.

Recently it was announced that state moneys for Perth racing would be raised to a level almost equal to those for the Melbourne Cup carnival for certain races. This is why I have been approached by many people from the industry and from my electorate who stress that Western Australia must remain free of disease—there is simply too much at stake. Australia was declared officially free from equine influenza on 30 June 2008. Western Australia was fortunate, due largely to the tyranny of distance and the strict quarantine protocols that are in place, that equine influenza did not spread across the Nullarbor. It is important to remember that, although Western Australia remained officially free of equine influenza, it did not escape its effects. The Western Australian racing, pacing and equestrian industries were still impacted on significantly.

When Australian Racing Board Chief Executive Andrew Harding said that the racing and breeding industries were losing $4.3 million a day, I can assure honourable members that he was not excluding Western Australia. The cost of vaccinating thoroughbreds and pacers in Western Australia was approximately $2 million. As I am sure you will agree, Mr Deputy Speaker, this is by no means a trivial sum of money. This could be a drop in the bucket of the state tax take, but where do we see the WA Carpenter state government on this issue, with their $2 million surplus? They are nowhere to be seen and, once the election is over this weekend, we can only hope they will not be seen for a long time. The racing industry people in WA are very wise and they will see the shallowness of the Carpenter government and their inability to assist the industry.

A significant number of top-quality WA brood mares were unable to be mated with stallions standing at stud last year. These stallions were stranded and could not be brought back to WA for the breeding season. Stallions shuttling to Western Australia from overseas or from the east coast were not allowed in. Some of these high-priced, well-bred stallions were unable to earn from their service fees, and the investment that owners had in these horses was stopped. Additionally, there will be some impact on the number of foals born in WA this year. Down the track this could affect the number of racing stock and therefore racing turnover with the WA TAB. Western Australia also has a burgeoning breeding industry selling racehorses and yearlings to South-East Asia, Singapore and South Africa. The potential loss of breeding stock would see us lose that market that has been so hard fought for. This must never happen; we must keep Australia and WA EI free.

I was personally astonished yesterday when I heard the member for Forde claim that the wonderful thing about equine influenza is that it is a disease that can be easily controlled. I do not think there is anything wonderful about the disease at all. If this is the attitude of the Labor Party then Western Australia has much to fear. Although there was obviously nothing like the devastation that happened in the New South Wales and Queensland racing industries, there was an impact that hit at a time when betting in Western Australia was booming. While racing in Western Australia did not have to stop during the outbreak, as happened in New South Wales and Queensland, the loss of those meetings on the east coast had a dramatic impact on betting turnover, which in turn affected TAB turnover. This then affected the revenue that the WA state government takes out of racing as a tax—another example of why the state government should cough up the levy and show their support for this industry. To give back some of the tax take and to protect this source of revenue is nothing else but common sense. Western Australia and the electorate of Swan have suffered along with the rest of Australia during this crisis and should have a strong say in this bill.

Before considering separate components of the bill before the House today I would like to reflect on the Howard government’s response to this crisis back in 2007. Where there are natural disasters that put livelihoods of Australians at risk, it is right that the government intervene. On 30 August 2007 the then member for Gippsland announced a $4 million fund to provide emergency grants of up to $1,500 for individuals suffering financial difficulties due to equine influenza. Following this, on 9 September 2007, the Howard government announced a $110 million funding package for people and businesses facing additional costs and significant financial hardship as a direct result of EI. This package consisted of, firstly, a $20 million estimated cost for an equine workers hardship wage supplement payment, which was aimed at workers who lost their job or most of their income and at sole traders in similar situations; and, secondly, a $45 million estimated cost for business assistance grants, which involved $5,000 grants to businesses that derive the majority of their income from the commercial horse industry and whose income suffered a significant downturn. The coalition government also provided a $44 million cash injection for primary horse carers at non-government not-for-profit equestrian organisations. On 21 October 2007 Minister McGauran announced a $117 million extension to the EI assistance package. This was simply additional funding that would allow the 9 September package to cover a further 12 weeks through to 8 February 2008.

I was pleased to note that after the change in government the incoming Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry saw fit to continue this important policy. However, it increasingly became clear that a long-term strategy was required to make sure that the industry was better prepared for future outbreaks. Immunity treatment provided by the government, for example, only lasts for 12 months and, to combat future outbreaks, horses must be vaccinated annually. A comprehensive strategy is required. This is why the debate in parliament today and yesterday is so important. It is a step towards a long-term plan for the industry, a long-term plan that is vital not just for the participants in the racing industry but also for stud farms, racehorse owners, trainers and jockeys and TAB shop owners—and not forgetting the parents who take their children out to pony clubs throughout the state. The Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 is the government’s attempt to respond to this. I have grave doubts about the ability of this bill to provide any long-term solution.

When I looked at this bill and the answers relating to why this legislation is necessary, I saw that part 2 of the second paragraph in the Q and A sheet states:

… most industry bodies do not have the reserves or the required capital backing to arrange for commercial loans to draw on in the event of such an emergency—

like an outbreak of EAD. That is obvious, but the government should then look at who benefits financially from this industry and who can afford to pay a levy. The total tax take from this industry by state governments through totaliser betting is enormous. Where is the investment by these state governments to protect their income?

First, I would question the minister on his approach to this important bill, which was not within the spirit of cooperation and listening. On 11 June 2008, the minister wrote to horse owners to discuss this important issue. Instead of taking a consultative tone, he used an aggressive and threatening tone, claiming that further assistance would be refused in the event of a disease outbreak such as equine influenza if the industry failed to sign up to the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement. This is what the member for Wakefield referred to yesterday evening as ‘extensive consultation’. Is this the consultative tone that was flaunted by Prime Minister Rudd at his extravagant and hollow 2020 Summit? I do not think so.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Rudd government does not practise what it preaches when it comes to participatory democracy. Perhaps there is not enough media interest in the bill to make Mr Rudd’s ears prick up. Perhaps the Prime Minister’s spin doctor told him that there was nothing in it for him. Whatever the case may be, the Rudd government has let equine people down. In a democracy, people deserve to be listened to. Threatening letters are arrogant and inexcusable. Prime Minister Rudd and his government should not be allowed to get away with bullying the people of Australia. This is an appalling base from which a bill should progress. The EADRA was not designed back in 2002 to be a mechanism for the Labor Party, despite public opinion, to force through its own bills.

The member for Maribyrnong yesterday also mentioned in his speech on this legislation how he had practically saved all the members of the Australian Jockeys Association from complete decimation and is now their patron. Unfortunately, not to underestimate his contribution to the Australian Jockeys Association, I have not heard any jockeys in WA singing his praises and telling me that they have his picture hanging in their homes as a reflection of his magnificent self-praising deeds. Maybe he was just jockeying himself up for the minister’s job.

Mr Randall —He is a bit up himself, isn’t he?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—I would ask the member for Canning to withdraw that comment.

Mr Randall —What comment is that?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —You know the comment you made. I am asking you to withdraw the comment.

Mr Randall —I withdraw.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Thank you.

Mr IRONS —The second point I would make in relation to this bill is the foolhardy provision to make all horses subject to an equal levy. This is despite the potential risk of exotic disease introduction and spreading being much higher with the number of movements, both internationally and domestically, that are associated with the racing industries. How is this fair? The Rudd government continues to favour flat taxes, with little or no regard for small business—in this case, the horse industry. Labor have implemented boring, uniform policies. They tend to ignore the great diversity that our nation has to offer and usually come up with the wrong answer.

My final point is that the coverage of this legislation will be far from comprehensive. It is estimated that only a small proportion of the total number of horses would be subject to levy collection and, furthermore, that approximately 80 per cent of any liability to be recovered through the levy would fall upon pleasure and performance horse owners, who derive no income from their horses and, therefore, would receive little or no compensation through the EADRA as a result of a disease event. This is not good for the racing industry or for the pleasure and performance horse owners, who rely upon each other in a symbiotic relationship in ensuring the overall health of the horse industry.

In conclusion, the horse industry is very important to the people of my electorate of Swan. The equine influenza outbreak had a significant impact on the people of Western Australia, and the coalition government’s response was considered and admirable. The Labor Party’s proposed response is non-consultative, unresponsive to diversity and unfair and it threatens the health of the horse industry as a whole. Finally, we must not forget that our star Western Australian Olympic equestrians—Clayton and Lucinda Fredericks; and Sonja Johnson, from Albany—would not have been able to compete if equine influenza had been in Western Australia. Therefore, on behalf of my constituents of Swan, I urge the government to rethink its legislation and to act in a sensible and consultative manner when dealing with this important issue. I urge it to get the people who can afford to pay this levy, the state governments, to pay it and let them protect their revenue sources.