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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 6991


Mr HARTSUYKER (12:12 PM) —I rise to speak in opposition to the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and cognate bills and to draw the attention of the House to the impact that these proposed measures would have on horse owners in my electorate. This legislation would impose an unfair and inequitable burden on those horse owners that derive little or no income from their horses. The legislation would force these owners to pay a levy to cover the costs of a disease outbreak and to essentially subsidise the racing industry. As part of the agreement, each industry contributes funding which can be used to cover the cost of a disease outbreak within a particular industry. The government is also bound to provide financial assistance depending on the type and size of outbreak and the industry. The legislation before the House would force anyone who registers a horse to pay a levy to raise the necessary funds to allow the equine industry to become a signatory to the agreement.

I only have to drive 10 minutes from my home in Coffs Harbour to be among the many small farms in the Orara Valley. Many of these properties are home to horses which are used exclusively for non-business or recreational purposes. Many of the horse owners in my electorate make no income from their horses; they ride for pleasure. The statistics show that these circumstances are not unique to my electorate. Only 20 per cent of horse registrations in Australia are from the thoroughbred industry. This means that about 80 per cent of the horses registered in Australia belong to people who derive little or no income from their horses. These are people who own a horse to round up cattle, to ride at the pony club or to give their children the enjoyment of the ownership of a horse. These are people who compete in equestrian, campdrafting and showjumping events, often at great personal expense.

Some of these 80 per cent of horses outside the thoroughbred industry belong to people who run small breeding operations. These horse owners were hit very hard by the equine influenza outbreak. Because they receive little or no income from owning a horse, they were not eligible for government assistance but still had to bear the costs of extra vet visits and vaccinations. Under this proposed scheme, these small-time horse owners would receive little assistance in the event of a future disease outbreak but would be forced to pay the same levy as a professional racehorse owner, who may receive substantial financial support.

I have received numerous letters from people in my electorate who are furious at the prospect of paying a levy on every horse registration. One such letter I received was from a small breeder, Karangi Foxbridge Farm Arabians, who said of the proposed levy:

This is the final insult to the many small breeders that have been almost crippled by EI so far. I for one have had no assistance, vaccinations, or help from the Government. I refuse to pay for a situation which I had no involvement in creating. It is hard enough as it is to try to market horses, any added cost would mean the end of breeding horses for us.

Another of my constituents from the Clarence Valley wrote to me with a story typical of many caught up in the EI outbreak. He said at the time:

We have lost the opportunity to compete in the annual futurity event at Tamworth ... One of our two horses has been trapped interstate at some cost ... We have borne this rather stoically in my opinion, but to now hear that we may be expected to pay again for the inconvenience we have not caused makes us sad as well as angry. We should not have to pay a levy at all.

In the event of a disease outbreak, recreational horse owners would not receive significant financial assistance under the EAD Response Agreement, but they would still be required to contribute to the scheme. This plainly goes against the principles that are firmly established in our society.

In essence, the bill requires that recreational horse owners and small breeders, comprising some 80 per cent of horse owners, provide assistance to 20 per cent of horse owners who are commercial operators operating on a large scale as part of the thoroughbred racing industry. It is just not fair. To force recreational horse owners to pay a levy the same as large professional breeders and owners is indeed not fair. They generate significant cash flow. The racing industry is a major, substantial industry in our nation and it certainly has the capacity to pay; many recreational horse owners do not. In the event of a disease emergency, the racing industry will receive the majority of the financial assistance provided by the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement scheme and, as such, the racing industry should pay for the majority of the funding.

The government has certainly made the claim that the industry and horse owners support the proposal being put forward by the government. But, interestingly, I received a document from the Queensland Horse Council. They describe themselves as the peak body for the Queensland horse industry. They provided a copy of a letter which was sent to Minister Burke. The letter is quite enlightening. It says:

Dear Minister,

I am writing on behalf of the members of the Queensland Horse Council Inc. (QHC) in regards to the debate occurring in Federal Parliament this afternoon. We are deeply concerned that the pleasure and performance horse owners in Queensland and Australia in general are being misrepresented with respect to the signing of the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) and any resultant horse levies. As the endorsed Peak Body for the Queensland Horse Industry and representing 37 500 members made up from a wide range of equine activities, the QHC secretary, Ms Lorraine Decker corresponded to Minister Tony Burke conveying the members opposition to EADRA. In this letter sent on the 23rd July 2008 it stated that after three surveys of our members an overwhelming decision was reached not to become signatories to EADRA in its current form. The members were also opposed to compulsory horse registration and microchipping and were against any levies. Whilst it has been confirmed that The Honourable Tony Burke received this letter a response has not yet been received.

At an Australian Horse Industry Council (AHIC), Industry Advisory Sub Committee (IAC) meeting in Sydney on 13th May 2008 the topic of EADRA was also discussed. Present at this meeting were members of QHC, AHIC, Australian Campdraft Association, Pony Club Australia, Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, Equestrian Federation of Australia and Australian Quarter Horse Association just to name a few, all on behalf of the constituents.

The results at this meeting were quite interesting. Did we see an overwhelming show of support for the system of levies as currently proposed by the government, as has been claimed? No, we did not. The results of the vote, as indicated in the aforementioned document, show that 13 of the associations were opposed to any horse levy, two associations supported a horse levy and one association supported a future levy. So there was basically a vote of 13 to three against the imposition of such levies. Given that, the government is claiming to have some agreement from industry on this. This is quite alarming.

The letter went on to say:

It has been made known to the QHC that in Federal Parliament today it will be put forward that the Horse Industry is in agreement to EADRA and resultant levies ... This is in stark contrast to what the Australian Horse Industry is actually saying.

There we have it—evidence from a meeting at which there was a vote of 13 to three against the imposition of such levies. That is certainly not widespread industry support.

In conclusion, there is no question that the equine industry needs to raise enough funds to join other livestock industries in the disease response agreement. The problem is the way in which those funds will be collected. The vast majority of members of the Australian Horse Industry Council are against this proposal, and I call on the government to work with the different sectors of the equine industry to develop a levy scheme that takes into account the relative financial strengths of the different players within the industry. The recreational horse owners in my electorate will be unfairly targeted if this legislation is allowed to pass through the parliament in its current form. That is why I am joining with my opposition colleagues to oppose the passage of these bills through the House.

It was interesting to note that the member for Page, who was in this House earlier, was very supportive of the legislation, supportive of a levy on her local pony clubs and supportive of a levy on her local small breeders, who do not have the capacity to pay or to make substantial financial gain from their ownership of horses—in fact, to them, ownership of horses can be a very expensive exercise. So I would call on the member for Page to front her local pony clubs and explain to them why she is supporting a tax on their sport and a tax on their recreational pursuits.