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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 6986

Mr JOHN COBB (11:47 AM) —Along with quite a lot of other people—particularly those from the more rural electorates, but also people representing those not necessarily in rural areas but who have an interest in horses or who have a professional interest, such as in the racing industry—I rise to speak on the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and related bills. I suppose that I am more concerned with those people who either have horses as part of a professional industry, such as from the stock point of view, or are involved with pony clubs and showjumping—people who are very much affected by this bill but who are less involved with the threat to Australia from outside diseases. While I am a big supporter of the thoroughbred industry—it provides an awful lot of employment and activity right around Australia—it is the international thoroughbred industry that this is probably centred on because they are the ones who put the pressure on quarantine. The international thoroughbred industry are the ones who are moving horses around, by and large, and it would seem almost certain that it is the international thoroughbred industry who have brought on the recent catastrophic situation for the horse industry.

However, that said, while we do need all the protection we can have, I do not think that this is really the right way to go about it. To ask pony clubs and people who simply use station horses to be involved in a levy system which treats those who place the most pressure on quarantine—that is, the totally professional thoroughbred industry and in particular the international industry—exactly the same as those who simply go to a lot of expense to allow their children to participate in a very healthy and commendable activity, such as pony clubs and the like, does not seem to me to be just.

Look at what happened almost a year ago exactly—in fact, a year ago last week. I remember it well; the Condobolin Show was to be held on the Saturday. On the Friday night before, when it all blew up, horses reached Parkes from Sydney and, as events transpired, brought the equine influenza disease out there. Without going into how all of that occurred, it had a profound effect on central-west and western New South Wales. The Condobolin Show—where, thankfully, the disease never showed up—was quarantined for a few weeks after that event. Parkes was quarantined for months, and it had a profound effect on the horse industry right around the region. I do not need to go on about that; everybody is aware of it. The thoroughbred-racing industry in the bush was paralysed for a long time. People lost a lot of money and basically had a 12-month hiatus in their livelihood and their industry.

But it was not just the thoroughbred industry; it affected everyone involved in the horse industry, including those involved in pony clubs. I will never forget the year we spent going to shows without horses—it was very different! You certainly realised that horses play a bigger role in the smaller shows than they do in the big shows. Now all these shows are coming on again—as I said, it was only about a week ago last year that all this transpired—and you can go to those same shows today and see the kids there with their horses, especially in the central west, where the shows are now in full swing. Last week we had the Lake Cargelligo and the Narromine shows; Trundle Show was the other day and we have the Cowra Show next week. All those shows in the central west—Cudal et cetera—are on, and they are going to be totally different this year, through having horses there and the kids there enjoying themselves.

To look after an animal is a great learning experience for a child. Those who deal with young people who have a disability or a problem in their life which has caused them to become socially estranged say that horses are a great way of bringing them back. The people who do that—who give a lot of their time to do so—notice that. So the horse industry is not just about the Melbourne Cup. It is about kids. But it is also about disadvantaged people, and it provides a lot for them. It is quite fantastic to see how much people give of their time to help others less fortunate and what it does for them.

To return to the show situation: the Parkes Show, which I mentioned before, was on again last week. It is a three-day show, one of the biggest shows in western New South Wales. And of all the shows in New South Wales it was the only show that had to be cancelled last year because of equine influenza. As I said, it was quarantined pretty much on the Saturday or the Sunday, and the show was due to start on the Monday. The point I am getting at is that the show society at Parkes had absolutely no opportunity to make provision, simply because quarantined horses were situated within the Parkes Showground and were there for months afterwards. In fact, one of my employees at the time had three horses there—her children’s horses—and the expense and the trouble she had to go to were extreme.

Also, I would have to make the point to the House, as I have to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, that this show—because it was the only show that I am aware of that had to cancel, through no fault of its own—certainly should have come within the provisions of the assistance that we made available to charitable or non-profit organisations. I was talking to the Chairman of the Parkes Show Society, Andrew Hall, just recently, and I think that the amount they found they had lost was something like $80,000—and that was unrecoverable money. So I am very disappointed that the current government has not seen fit to include them in the reparations that were made. I believe that we were going to encompass them; however, that did not happen before the election. But that is not the point. The point is that, if the current provisions did not make it possible for Parkes to get that money, then the minister should make sure he makes other provisions to ensure that they do. That show was last week. The Parkes Show Society have had enormous trouble over the last 12 months. To fill an $80,000 hole in funds—for a voluntary, non-profit community organisation that runs a three-day show, one of the very few west of the Blue Mountains—is an enormous undertaking. It has done everything it was asked to do and provided every figure it was asked to provide. It was the only show in New South Wales that had to be cancelled; it was through no fault of its own, and yet it did it.

As regards this bill, I think it does create divisions within the horse industry. As I said, at one end you have the international thoroughbred industry, with stallions moving around the world, and they put a lot of pressure on quarantine. I am not going to go into whose fault it was, whether that of AQIS or whoever; the situations under which EI got in are pretty obvious. I accept that the minister and the department have to deal with that. And I do not think anybody has a serious problem with the horse industry having to contribute, as the other animal industries have to do. But, in terms of asking the industry to pay for all this in the future, the way that has been done is not equitable, and I think that in the future it needs to be made equitable.

I do believe they need to take another look at the way the levy is being applied, when 80 per cent of the levy would be collected from pleasure and recreational horse owners who do not have a commercial opportunity to raise that money. And it has got to be healthier for kids to have an interest in horses, whether their own or their friends’, than to be running around looking for drugs or whatever. So the horse industry is not just about professional commercial enterprises; it is very much about lifestyle. It is very much about having a healthy aspect to life, not just in rural communities but on the edge of Sydney and on the edges of cities everywhere. I would recommend it to anybody. I was lucky enough to have an upbringing where horses were a way of life, and I think you will find that everybody who has come into close contact with and had to look after a large animal is the better for it. And, as I said earlier, a lot of the horse industry is about helping people who have problems in their lives—either young people or people with disabilities—and they are wonderfully advantaged by the opportunities that people go to great lengths to provide for them. I think that we have to look at the aspect that so much of this levy is going to be collected from people who—I cannot put it any other way—have no commercial ability to offset that levy.