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Thursday, 19 September 2002
Page: 4497

Senator TROETH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (1:26 PM) — in reply—The Plant Health Australia (Plant Industries) Funding Bill 2002 provides a mechanism, as has been said, to enable plant industry members of Plant Health Australia Ltd to pay their share of PHA's costs by diverting a portion of existing levies and charges to PHA. The legislative changes proposed give effect to the plant industries' request not to increase the overall levy and charge burden on producers.

PHA members consist of plant industries and all state, territory and Commonwealth members and it was established in April 2000 as a Corporations Law company responsible for coordinating national plant health matters. The matter was raised in Senator O'Brien's speech as to why we had not made provision in this legislation for eradication levies. Provision for eradication levies can be provided for after completion of negotiations on cost sharing. It was not included as the government did not wish to prejudice the cost sharing arrangements and negotiations which are always a reasonably delicate matter. However, I assure Senator O'Brien that I also met with Professor King recently and I certainly appreciate the importance of the Commonwealth covering these matters.

There has been the full support of industry for this bill and its design to limit the appropriation made to PHA to exactly that of each plant industry member's share of PHA's annual costs. We are to use existing levy and charge collection arrangements, and it will also contain measures that enable additional funds to be raised for special projects. In accordance with PHA's constitution, the members have to agree to this before the start of the year.

It is difficult to set a levy rate that will collect a precise amount of money and no more, so those plant industry members expected to use these arrangements are intending to seek the imposition of operative levy and charge rates at a level that will comfortably collect funds in excess of their liability to PHA. The bill makes provision for these excess funds to be redirected to fund research and development activities. Obviously, because some industry funds are being diverted to PHA, there will be a slight reduction in the Commonwealth contributions to research and development because of the matching dollar for dollar. As the intention of the bill is to facilitate the disbursement of levies and charges to PHA, there will be no further financial implications for the Commonwealth. I thank honourable senators for their contributions and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.