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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 71

Senator O’BRIEN (1:14 PM) —I have waited for this moment and now it has come. The Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Rice) Bill 2005 has the support of the opposition. I know the government was keen to know that. This bill amends the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 to allow the maximum allowable level of the operative rate of the rice levy to be increased from $2 a tonne to $3 a tonne, a 50 per cent increase. It also requires that in future the operative level of the levy will be set by regulation instead of ministerial declaration and also that the leviable varieties of rice will be set by regulation rather than by ministerial declaration.

In the view of the opposition, this is a very timely piece of legislation. The current drought has had a significant impact on this industry. Many rice farmers in the Riverina are in fact facing their fourth season of drought. Rice production this year is estimated to be 358,000 tonnes, which is well down on the 1.3 million tonnes that was previously the norm. Already, the industry has lost 200 jobs, with the Riverina being the area that has suffered most because of those job losses, which have mainly been in the facilities that process the rice.

The decline in rice production has meant that the amount of money collected through levies has fallen and therefore there has been less money available for important research for this industry. By increasing the operative level of the levy, as allowed for under the provisions of this bill, the industry will be able to make up the shortfall in research funds. Research is absolutely vital for the rice industry. Over the last 10 years, as a result of improvements driven by research, this industry has been able to improve its water usage efficiency by 60 per cent.

The provisions in the bill that relate to the setting of the operative level of the rice levy and the determination of leviable rice varieties by way of regulation rather than by ministerial declaration bring rice into line with other commodities and other industries in terms of how the level of their research and development levies are set. Therefore, in the view of the opposition, this is a sensible piece of legislation. The opposition is aware that it has the support of the rice industry. The opposition is happy to lend its support in this place.