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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1880

Mr JOYCE (New EnglandMinister for Agriculture and Deputy Leader of The Nationals) (13:02): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This government is working to boost the competitiveness and productivity of the Australian agriculture sector. A strong biosecurity system is critical to that goal. Australia's enviable pest and disease status gives our producers a unique advantage other markets struggle to provide. Australia's strong biosecurity system works to protect human, plant and animal health from the impact of exotic pests and diseases.

The Department of Agriculture is responsible for safeguarding Australia from unwanted pests and diseases. As well as playing an obvious role protecting Australia's environment; safeguarding Australia from unwanted pests and diseases also protects Australia's economy.

For example, a recent review commissioned by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences looked at the economic impact of hypothetical foot and mouth disease outbreaks in Australia. In the event of a large multi-state foot and mouth disease outbreak, the ABARES estimates revenue losses could be more than $50 billion over 10 years. Reflecting international experience, the economic impact of trade restrictions, including the closure of export markets, would be far greater than the cost of controlling the disease.

Historically, the Department of Agriculture's approach to biosecurity has been shaped by mandatory border intervention targets for specific goods at the border. However, this approach did not take into account the varying levels of risk posed by different goods or whether intervention would be most effective overseas, at our border or on-shore.

In recent years, the department's approach has evolved to one based on risk, which helps officers target higher risk goods, passengers and mail. This has helped the department to more effectively manage the biosecurity risks associated with ever increasing volumes of trade and passengers moving across our border.

Risk based interventions reduce the burden on compliant businesses, enabling faster clearance at the border through better targeting and focus on higher risk goods. The risk based business model allows the free movement of goods where risk is low and cuts costs for clients who actively and conscientiously take account of biosecurity risks. It reduces the cost of delivering frontline services and saves time and money for importing businesses with flow-on benefits to the broader economy.

The government's policy is that agencies should set charges to recover the costs of products or services that they provide. Any charges should reflect the costs of providing the service and should generally be imposed on a fee-for-service basis or, where efficient, as a levy. In line with this policy, the department recovers the costs of providing services to importers under the Quarantine Act 1908 directly and indirectly. This includes indirect services such as intelligence gathering and surveillance that enable targeting of high risk goods for intervention.

This legislation package brings into line an appropriate legislative structure for the recovery of costs associated with indirect biosecurity services undertaken by the department for the benefit of importers. The legislation will sit alongside the existing fee-for-service cost recovery mechanism. Having the appropriate cost recovery mechanisms in place will support Australia's capacity to manage biosecurity risks into the future.

This legislation is designed purely as a cost recovery mechanism. The legislation ensures that the Minister for Agriculture must be satisfied that the amount charged will not be more than the likely costs of delivering the activity.

The legislation has been drafted to be consistent with Australia's international trade obligations. This will also be the case in drafting any delegated legislation.

The Quarantine Charges (Imposition—General) Bill 2014 is the first of four bills that provide the appropriate cost recovery mechanism for the risk-based approach.

Specifically the bill will enable cost recovery of activities that provide general benefits to importers—particularly the recovery of costs for surveillance, compliance, risk analysis and intelligence capabilities, which are key features of the risk-based approach.

The amount of the cost recovery charges and who is liable to pay them will be set in regulation under the bill. As mentioned, the bill also includes a safeguard regarding the amount of the charge. This will provide clients with confidence that the government will not over recover the costs of its biosecurity services.

Setting the charges through delegated legislation will allow the Minister for Agriculture to make appropriate and timely adjustments to the charges avoiding future over or under recoveries.

The bill also validates the fees currently in the Quarantine Service Fees Determination 2005.

Three companion bills are being introduced alongside this bill, the Quarantine Charges (Imposition—Customs) Bill 2014, the Quarantine Charges (Imposition—Excise) Bill 2014, and the Quarantine Charges (Collection) Bill 2014.

This package of bills will ensure that appropriate cost recovery mechanisms are in place. Funding the biosecurity system is critical for protecting Australia's unique animal and plant health status. It is also essential for maintaining farmers' access to overseas markets and strengthening our position as a net exporter of the highest quality agricultural goods—a position forecast to be worth $38.0 billion to the Australian economy in the current financial year.

Debate adjourned.