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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 322

Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (4:59 PM) —Many Australian families own a horse which brings great joy and fulfilment to their lives. Family First believes that those who own a horse for their private enjoyment, leisure or sporting activities should not be financially burdened in the event of any outbreak of equine influenza as they will be under the proposed Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and cognate bills.

Equine influenza, or EI as it is known, is an exotic disease imported by those who own horses for commercial or business reasons. Those mums, dads and kids who belong to the local pony club and who privately own a horse as a valued and loved family pet are not responsible for the importation and subsequent outbreak of EI. Therefore they should not have to pay the levy proposed by the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 to fund the recovery effort in the event of a future outbreak. Also, those who own a horse as a pet are not making any profit as a result of that ownership and are less financially able to pay a levy, unlike those with commercial interests in the horse industry. The bill as proposed seeks to introduce a levy paid by the horse owner when registering a horse for the first time. Those already signed up to the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, the EADRA, such as the poultry, beef and dairy industries, have agreed to help pay for any emergency response to an outbreak of animal diseases. Currently, the horse industry has not signed the agreement.

The aim of the bills before us is to bring the horse industry into the agreement and to impose the levy on all horses registered with a horse industry body. This raises the issue of what exactly is meant by the term ‘horse industry body’. Does this include the local pony club? Pony Club Australia, in its submission to the recent Senate inquiry on this bill and the cognate bills, was greatly concerned about the effect the levy will have on private horse owners, horse associations and clubs. The pony club, a not-for-profit amateur youth organisation established in Australia in 1934 and consisting of over 55,000 members nationwide, depends upon the goodwill of those thousands of volunteers to run the club’s events each weekend. The club’s submission states:

The associations are not equipped and do not have the capacity financially, administratively or in human resources to manage the collection of levies.

Their submission also points out the differences between the horse industry and the produce industries such as those for beef, dairy and poultry. It states:

In the Performance, Recreation and Hobby sector there is no end product other than the companionship and pleasure, or performance, enjoyed by the rider.

As the submission points out about participants in the sector:

Some are single parents, some are minors, others from some of the rural industries which are suffering adverse conditions and all are struggling to meet the increased cost of fuel, feed and general living expenses. For many it involves substantial personal sacrifice so their children can continue their involvement.

In her submission to the committee, Ms Kelly Gannon from Victoria wrote extensively about the inequality of a flat fee levy imposed across the horse industry affecting individual horse owners who are not involved in the commercial or business aspects of the industry. Ms Gannon stated:

It is my belief that the majority of intended ‘potential levy payers’ do not create the need for these regulations, do not create the risk of disease and do not run commercial profitable businesses, and are, in actual fact, the unfortunate recipients of other peoples commercial risk taking behavior.

So it begs the question: why should these horse lovers, who have not created this risk, be required to pay for it? Ms Gannon created an online petition against the proposed levy and over 6,000 people have signed up in opposition to it. Angela Yeend, the Executive Officer of the Equestrian Federation of Australia, in her submission to the committee argues that applying the same levy fee to all horse owners across the industry is grossly unfair as most horse owners are:

… not responsible and have no control over, or accountability from, those who import horses.

She also expressed concern that the levy would prevent many people from being able to ‘start at grassroots level’ in equestrian sports. Family First believes that, while it is important to have strategies in place to deal effectively with a future outbreak of EI, it should be recognised that there are significant differences between other livestock industries and the horse industry. Not all horses can be defined as ‘cattle’ as they are often privately owned and loved family pets and are used for leisure and sporting activities.

Private horse owners are usually not involved in commercial activities which are associated with the risk of importing an exotic disease. For many families owning a horse is already an expensive hobby, giving great enjoyment, physical exercise and learning experiences to children and adults alike. Adding a levy to the costs of looking after a horse may cause some families to give up their pets. It may also stop many from registering their horses, thus preventing them from participating in sporting competitions. Individuals or families who own a horse for their own pleasure or for sporting activities are not making a profit from their horse and therefore are less able financially to fund the emergency response to an outbreak of EI.

Those who are involved in importing horses and those responsible for implementing secure quarantine practices to protect Australia from exotic diseases are the ones primarily responsible for any future outbreak of EI, not families and kids participating in equestrian or pony club activities each weekend. Families should not have to foot the bill when those who import horses fail to prevent the disease from coming into Australia. Family First will be looking to the committee stage to see whether this issue is addressed adequately and we will reserve our vote on the third reading.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marshall)—Senator Fielding, are you indicating to me that you would like to have a committee stage, which, as I understand it, is not intended at the moment?

Senator FIELDING —That is correct.