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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 6988

Mr SCHULTZ (11:59 AM) —I rise to place on the record my opposition to the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and cognate bills. At the outset, I compliment the honourable member for Calare, Mr Cobb, for justifiably and understandably raising the issues related to volunteers, horses and the disabled. I also compliment him on raising the issue of the horse industry associated with the show system that operates in New South Wales and across the country. The points that he made are very relevant.

In the electorate of Hume there are many mums and dads who have a pony in the backyard for their children, and I believe it is unfair to burden them with the cost of protecting the thoroughbred and racing industries. Getting back to the point raised by the honourable member for Calare, it is particularly galling to realise that groups such as Riding for the Disabled are also entrapped by this despicable revenue-raising arrogance. Not only will these bills load them up with responsibility for carrying the cost of disease responses; they will do so without providing representation or, indeed, the means to find the levy funds demanded. Basically, disabled children and adults who are being assisted by volunteers will have to find the money or give up this activity, which provides an outlet for physical expression and builds self-esteem. The volunteer-driven, community-minded organisations that are assisting disadvantaged people in society will be heavily hit by this levy and will have to either give up these activities, which add so much to each local community, or spend even more of their time fundraising to pay this outrageous tax so they can be allowed to provide their vital services.

In the Australian democracy we believe in representation at all levels, but the system of consultation proposed by this Labor government does not include many of those mums and dads. Peak livestock bodies do not represent these people; therefore they have no voice in the decisions being made about the imposts on them. Let us look at the history. The Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, EADRA, was created in 2002 and included the Commonwealth, states, territories and peak livestock industry councils. EADRA replaced the Commonwealth/States Cost Sharing Agreement. It was created with the goal of establishing a mechanism to facilitate the making of rapid responses to and the control and eradication or containment of certain animal diseases, with the costs of the response shared between governments and industry according to the classification of the disease. The peak horse industry representative bodies—the Australian Horse Industry Council, AHIC; Harness Racing Australia, HRA; and the Australian Racing Board, ARB—are the only bodies of the horse industry that are eligible to become signatories to the EADRA.

I draw your attention to this point, because even if all the backyard horse owners were to get together and form a body they would not be allowed to join EADRA. Secondly, note how all the peak bodies represent business, not the people who have a horse for pleasure. In fact, upon commencement of the EADRA in 2002 the Australian Horse Industry Council was unable to secure a suitable mechanism to raise funds to cover potential liabilities and thus is not currently a party to the agreement.

The coalition opposes these bills, as do I, as they propose a levy collection method that is not accepted as fair and equitable by the overwhelming proportion of horse owners, who would become liable to pay any future levy. The bills give no consideration to the potential risk of disease outbreak applicable to each sector of the Australian horse industry. For instance, what is the difference in risk between one horse in a backyard and a racehorse that is being shuttled between countries? There is potentially a much higher risk associated with the thoroughbred sector, associated with imported racehorses and shuttle stallions with the mandatory requirement for live joining, as opposed to domestic-use-only horses. Despite the potential risk of exotic disease introduction and spread being higher in the racing industries, with the associated number of movements both internationally and domestically, the bill proposes that all registered horses be subject to an equal levy.

The number of horses in Australia is estimated to be 1.2 million. The total number of horse registrations a year, including pony club registrations, is estimated at 50,000 to 60,000. In the 2005-06 breeding season, 29,070 thoroughbred mares produced 17,854 foals, of which 13,618 were registered. That represents only approximately 20 per cent of total horses registered nationally coming from the largest commercial group in the Australian horse industry. An analysis of total horse registrations reveals that the majority of horse registrations, approximately 80 per cent, are with breed associations or pleasure and performance riding groups such as pony clubs and cutting, reining and campdrafting groups. The unfairness of these bills is further exposed through these figures, which show that only a small proportion of the total number of horses would be subject to levy collection. Further, approximately 80 per cent of any liability to be recovered through the levy would fall upon owners of pleasure and performance horses, who derive no income from their horses and therefore would receive little or no compensation through EADRA as a result of a disease event.

The government also claims that all three of the peak national horse representative bodies support the passage of these bills. This is not totally correct. The president of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, in a letter to Minister Burke of 13 August 2008, said:

TBA supports passage of the Bills through the Parliament in the spring session on the understanding that the Government will consult with industry to establish a fair and equitable registration scheme to ensure the burden of the levy does not fall on too few horse sectors.

This is conditional support and relies upon the government to review the collection method for fairness and equity.

The AHIC has written in support of the bills, even though many of its member organisations strongly oppose the bills. An AHIC survey of its member organisations, reported in July 2008, found that, while a majority of respondents supported the industry becoming a signatory to EADRA, the proposed collection method based upon horse registrations was not supported. Individual AHIC member groups have also expressed staunch opposition to these bills.

The Queensland Horse Council general meeting of 15 July 2008 passed the following motion:

That the QHC is not in favour of signing an Emergency Disease Response Agreement or committing to any associated levy at this time.

The National Campdraft Council of Australia also opposes the signing of the EADRA due to the financial impost that would be placed upon their members. Pleasure horses and hobby horses are not the industry. They are a sector that supports the industry, such as farriers, feed suppliers, vets, event operators, trainers, breeders, tack and equipment suppliers and so on, yet they would be liable for the greatest financial burden under the levy proposal.

The recent EI outbreak highlighted that EI caused significant social disruptions as well as economic impacts. The EI outbreak also highlighted the inequalities inherent in the government’s proposed collection methodology. The Callinan report found that, while the cause of the EI outbreak could not be definitively determined, the most likely cause was a failing within quarantine processes. That is in line with a standing committee inquiry that I was associated with which took evidence on the bee industry. This would indicate that we have a massive problem in the AQIS inspection and quarantine area that needs to be addressed.

I respectfully put to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that a message should be conveyed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon. Tony Burke, that this bill will put an impost on innocent people who are trying to have some recreational activity with horses and particularly on those volunteers who are associated with supplying a very humane and decent service to people suffering with a disability. The minister, as a decent human being, needs to consider that the levy process that he is proposing in this bill is not the way to go. This levy process will put pressure on people who are out doing some good in the community in an environment where a government agency is the prime reason for this levy being brought forward.

The Callinan report, as I said, determined that the most likely cause was a failing within the quarantine process. Under the proposed bills, 80 per cent of the cost to industry of the EI outbreak would have been passed to the pleasure, performance and hobby sector with only 20 per cent being passed to the racing sector. Why should the pleasure, performance and hobby sector pay for the problems of the thoroughbred and racing sectors? More importantly, why should they pay for a government agency’s incompetence in imposing an unforeseen cost on them? In fact, why should the industry pay for the response to a government created disease outbreak? How shall these peak bodies raise money to take the government to court to prove fault and then claim compensation? They do not have the means to do so, and that is another issue that quite obviously the minister’s minders either did not consider or totally ignored when they gave advice to the minister.

Again, in these instances, people with horses for pleasure would bear 80 per cent of the cost and, because they would not be suffering business losses, would be unable to claim compensation. Despite what was learnt from the EI outbreak, this Labor government has failed to address any of the concerns raised by horse owners—most of whom are working families. It has failed to address them because the minister, in a typical Yes, Minister manner, is listening to the bureaucrats, who have absolutely no interest in or, indeed, indication of how these stupid recommendations end up in legislation and impact on ordinary working Australians who have a love and a pleasure associated with horses.

This government’s sole action was for the minister to write to horse owners on 11 June 2008 directly threatening them by refusing further assistance in the event of disease outbreaks such as EI if the industry failed to sign up to the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement. How is that for looking after the interests of working families! This Labor government has failed to assist the horse industry to help themselves prepare and respond to any future disease outbreaks and should stand condemned for its inaction and, more importantly, for the despicable way it has treated ordinary working families who have an association with an animal that is loved by each and every one of us in this place—the horse. I condemn the government for even contemplating putting this sort of legislation into this place. I will certainly be supporting the coalition in opposing the bill.