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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 4468


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) (5:50 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

HORSE DISEASE RESPONSE LEVY BILL 2008

The Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 will help the horse industry fund its obligations under the provisions of the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, the EADRA. It will impose a once-off statutory levy on the registration of horses to meet the industry’s commitment to share funding of responses to emergency disease outbreaks that affect horses.

With the current outbreak of equine influenza (EI) in Australia, nationally agreed emergency response arrangements were tested for the first time by a major animal disease outbreak in multiple jurisdictions. The EADRA, which commenced in 2002, is an important part of our national emergency animal disease preparedness and response infrastructure. The Australian Government and all state and territory governments are signatories to the EADRA, as are a number of livestock industries, but not the horse industry. Similar arrangements apply to plant industries.

Under the EADRA, the costs of responding to emergency animal diseases (EADs) are shared by the affected Parties. It provides certainty in funding for emergency animal disease threats and certainty in providing a rapid and effective response.

Recognising that most industry bodies do not have the reserves or the required capital backing to arrange commercial loans to draw on in the event of an EAD outbreak, the Australian Government agreed to underwrite industry contributions under the EADRA. Without ready access to financial underwriting for affected industries, an EAD response could be delayed and the overall response severely prejudiced.

Conditions for underwriting industry contributions to an EAD response are set out in the EADRA. These include the condition that there will be no Government underwriting without an agreed repayment scheme, such as a statutory levy, and that repayments must be within a reasonable period of time, generally no more than ten years.

All major livestock industries are signatories to the EADRA, including cattle, sheep, wool, pigs, dairy, poultry, goat and honeybee. All have arrangements in place to meet their obligations under the EADRA in the event of an animal disease emergency. In most cases this is a levy set at a zero rate by regulation. Other industries have accumulated reserves or have an existing positive levy in place. Where a levy mechanism is in place, collection is at a point of transaction, such as when cattle are sold at saleyards.

Ratification of the EADRA by the horse industry was delayed because of difficulties in obtaining industry agreement to an appropriate levy mechanism. Unlike production industries, it was difficult to easily establish a levy collection point that was equitable to all. However, after extensive consultation the industry has agreed that it was best to impose it at the point of horse registration.

The Australian Horse Industry Council (AHIC) made a submission to the former Government in late 2006 on behalf of the three peak national representative industry bodies - the AHIC, the Australian Harness Racing Council and the Australian Racing Board - supporting the introduction of a statutory levy to be applied to the initial registration of horses with recognised breed societies and performance organisations. This levy would be payable only once, on the initial registration of a horse. It would not be retrospective.

Since equine influenza was first detected in August 2007, up to the time of the last confirmed case in late December 2007, 6627 properties had been infected in New South Wales and 3569 in Queensland. All of these cases now appear to have been resolved. It is expected that eradication may be achieved by mid-March and that it will be possible to demonstrate in a few months time provisional proof of freedom from the disease. This has been an excellent effort by all parties, government and industry.

By then, the costs of the national response will be known and the extent of each party’s liability ascertained. Regulations will then be drafted under the provisions of this new legislation to set an operative horse disease response levy rate to enable the industry to repay the Australian Government for funds advanced on its behalf.


HORSE DISEASE RESPONSE LEVY COLLECTION BILL 2008

The Horse Disease Response Levy Collection Bill 2008 provides for arrangements to collect and administer the horse disease response levy imposed under the proposed Horse Disease Response Levy Act 2008. The Constitution requires that provisions dealing with the collection and administration of a levy must be in legislation separate from that which imposes the levy itself.

This new legislation will require horse registration bodies to pay the Commonwealth the amounts they receive from horse owners in the form of horse disease levy payments.

Registration bodies will be allowed to refuse to register a horse where the owner has failed to provide the necessary funds to pay the levy, and they will be required to issue a receipt as evidence that the levy has been paid.

The legislation will also provide regulations to determine when a levy is due. Provision will be included for imposing penalties for unpaid levies, and also for the remission of any penalties resulting from late payments. The legislation will also allow the Commonwealth to recover levies that are due, and to make refunds.

It is proposed that powers for the collection of information and documents will include a strict liability offence provision for where a person fails or refuses to comply with a request for information. This is necessary to ensure that the levy collection requirements are adhered to.

There is also provision to allow an authorised person to release information relating to the amount of levies received by the Commonwealth to a horse industry body, the Australian Animal Health Council or other authorised persons. However, this information will not identify an individual or provide other contact details.

These arrangements help give effect to the Australian Horse Industry Council’s submission to the former Government in late 2006. This submission was on behalf of the three peak national representative industry bodies - the Australian Horse Industry Council, the Australian Harness Racing Council and the Australian Racing Board - supporting the introduction of a statutory levy on the initial registration of horses including with recognised breed societies and performance organisations.

The new Bill will help the horse industry fund its share of the costs of responding to outbreaks of animal disease such as equine influenza. It recognises that most industry bodies do not have the reserves or the required capital backing to arrange for commercial loans to draw on in the event of such an emergency.

It will also help the horse industry have the confidence to become a formal signatory to the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) - an important part of Australia’s emergency animal disease preparedness and response infrastructure - and join other major livestock industries as Parties to it.

The proposed arrangements set out in this new legislation are similar to those applying to other industries that are Party to the EADRA.


HORSE DISEASE RESPONSE LEVY (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 2008

The Horse Disease Response Levy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 amends the Australian Animal Health Council (Live-stock Industries) Funding Act 1996 and provides for the appropriation and application of the horse disease response levy under the new Horse Disease Response Levy Act 2008.

The proposed amendments provide a mechanism to help the horse industry fund its liabilities under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA). The EADRA, which began in 2002, is an important part of Australia’s animal disease emergency preparedness and response infrastructure. It provides funding certainty in the event of emergency animal disease threats to Australia and certainty in providing rapid and effective responses. The Australian Government and all state and territory governments are signatories to the EADRA, as are a number of livestock industries. But not the horse industry.

Under the terms of the EADRA, the Government may be required to underwrite an industry’s share of the costs in a response to an animal disease emergency. The Agreement provides for this on the proviso that the industry agree to an appropriate repayment scheme, including through statutory levy arrangements.

While the horse industry is currently not a Party to the EADRA, the amendments will help it to become a Party by establishing secure funding arrangements to meet its obligations.

The Amendment Bill provides for amounts equal to the horse disease levy imposed under the provisions of the new Horse Disease Response Levy Act 2008 to be paid to the Australian Animal Health Council from the Consolidated Revenue Fund through the normal appropriation process.

The Amendment Bill authorises the Australian Animal Health Council to hold and manage these funds on behalf of the horse industry. The Australian Animal Health Council is to use the funds to discharge any obligations that the industry may incur under the EADRA. However, if the horse industry has not become a Party to the EADRA at the time that the horse disease levy is imposed, the Australian Animal Health Council must use the funds to repay the Commonwealth for any liabilities incurred responding to emergency animal disease outbreaks such as equine influenza.

If at any time the horse industry has no obligations under the EADRA, it may ask the Australian Animal Health Council to apply the funds in the event of other horse disease-related emergencies. However, it is not proposed that funds directed for research and development be matched by the Government.

These amendments help give effect to the Australian Horse Industry Council’s submission to government supporting the introduction of a statutory levy for the initial registration of horses. It helps establish arrangements for the long-term funding of emergency animal disease outbreaks such as equine influenza and so assists in providing certainty in responding to such outbreaks.

The amendments set out in this new legislation are similar to those applied to other industry Parties to the EADRA.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ludwig) adjourned.