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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 6212

Senator COLBECK (Tasmania) (13:29): The coalition is pleased to be supporting the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011, the Horse Disease Response Levy Collection Bill 2011 and the Horse Disease Response Levy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011. At the outset, I would like in particular to pay tribute to my colleague Senator Back, who played a fairly significant role in finally bringing this process back into a situation where we have a mechanism and a piece of legislation that will actually work. The history of this process is that back in 2008 a very average piece of legislation was presented to this parliament. At that point in time the opposition was not in a position to support it because it effectively was not a fair piece of legislation. The intent we supported: we saw the need for a capacity to collect a levy to effectively recompense government for its outlays in the event of an exotic disease outbreak. Of course, this whole process followed on from the EI outbreak that occurred in 2007, with significant economic impact. The Rudd government did not respond effectively to that and industry, government and the opposition then had to spend a lot of time to develop a reasonable proposal. So the effect of this piece of legislation is to enable horse disease response levies to be appropriated to the Australian Animal Health Council and provide that any excess levies be used for research and development activities or the promotion or maintenance of horse health.

This piece of legislation imposes a levy on manufactured horse feed and worm treatments, which by consensus—although there are some I know who still are not completely happy—seems to be the fairest way to recoup the cost that might occur in the circumstance where the government was forced to deal with a major disease outbreak. It is important to note at this point in the process that the levy is set at zero until there is a circumstance where there is a need to recoup some funding, so we are not applying any costs at this point in time. We are putting in place a mechanism where government can recoup the cost of dealing with a major outbreak—such as the one that occurred in August 2007—and return the cost to the taxpayer for dealing with that, but also mitigate the circumstances that have occurred.

In terms of the inequity that occurred through the previous incarnation of the bill, here are some simple statistics: it is estimated that there are 1.2 million horses in Australia—the total number of horse registrations in a year though is only 50,000 to 60,000—of which only 20 per cent are thoroughbreds and 80 per cent are breed associations or pleasure and performance horses. It is quite evident from these simple numbers that the liability was going to sit not where the greatest risk lay—which was particularly with stallions moving in and out of the country and with thoroughbred racing horses—or where the bulk of the money was in respect of the major racehorsing industry where a lot of the expense was being applied. This is a much better response. Obviously, nothing is ever perfect but I commend the work that is been done by industry and by my colleague Senator Back, and I indicate that the opposition is happy to support this piece of legislation and, at last, put this particular saga to bed.