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Thursday, 19 September 2002
Page: 4496

Senator BUCKLAND (1:21 PM) —I rise to speak today on the Plant Health Australia (Plant Industries) Funding Bill 2002. The principal aim of the bill is to allow the Commonwealth to pay amounts of levies and charges it has collected on behalf of certain plant industries to Plant Health Australia Ltd. The bill will also impart a mechanism for any excess levies or charges that are collected to be redirected to the relevant plant industry research and development bodies.

The minister has advised that the legislative mechanism was developed in consultation with PHA plant industry members. The bill is designed to limit the appropriation made to PHA to exactly that of each plant industry member's share of PHA's annual costs. When the industry's share of its annual contribution to PHA has been met the bill affords for any moneys collected in excess of its annual contribution to PHA to be redirected to that industry's R&D corporation and be deemed to be an R&D levy and charge. The new PHA levies and charges component will not be matched. It is clear that the primary benefit of returning any surplus levy contributions to research activities is that the industries involved will benefit from the government's matching dollar for dollar research and development funding.

Included in this bill is also a component that will facilitate plant industry members to raise additional funds for special projects that a member wishes to be undertaken by PHA on its behalf. The bill includes a ruling that allows consequential amendments to be made to the Horticultural Marketing and Research and Development Services Act 2000 and the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989.

The issues that need to be considered in this bill are that the PHA was established in April 2000 with a primary aim to be accountable for coordinating national plant health matters. Its members are from a variety of plant industries and all state, territory and Commonwealth governments—and I think that is what makes this bill particularly attractive. Consequently, the cost of any activities pursued by PHA is jointly the responsibility of its members based in part on the value of production of the various crops. Industry members of PHA belong to parts of the industry that include grains, cotton, vegetable and potato, sugar, wine grape, nursery, apple and pear, rice, banana, fresh stone fruit, nuts, honey and strawberries—a very diverse range of food products.

The minister has advised that the legislation has the full support of industry groups and producers—and, again, it is particularly attractive that the full range of industry groups and producers are working together. Labor, through Plant Health Australia, has established this to be true and it is one of the reasons—probably the primary reason—that we are supporting this bill. As a consequence, we have no major concerns with this particular bill before the chamber today. There will be a slight reduction in the Commonwealth contributions to research and development because of the diversion of some industry funds to PHA that would otherwise have been matched dollar for dollar by the Commonwealth if used for R&D purposes. However, there are really no other financial implications for the Commonwealth, and on these grounds Labor will be unequivocally supporting this bill.