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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 6213

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (13:33): I join with my colleague Senator Colbeck in giving support to the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011 and related bills. Undoubtedly, the winner in this whole exercise is the horse—its wellbeing and its welfare. For me, it marks an important milestone in a journey that started some 35 years ago when I commenced the first ever course of equine management at university level in 1976. This course was run for two purposes: firstly, to bring to the industry a level of integrity in the management and performance of horses—both breeding and racing—and, secondly, to supply trained and competent leaders for the industry into the future. It was the result of that course coming into existence that we first started to identify the value of the horse industry in this country—the multibillion-dollar industry that it is in prize money and activity—in returns to state and territory governments from gambling, from which they invest nothing but make hundreds of millions of dollars, and in employment throughout Australia, especially in regional Australia and very often for people who would not otherwise easily find employment.

These bills bring together the Australian capacity at federal level to deal with the emergency animal disease response agreement in the event of an outbreak—we have seen equine influenza, but it was only one. Under the Constitution, animal disease mitigation is the responsibility of the states and territories and what EADRA does, for all of the animal species, is allow the Com­monwealth to step in in the event of an exotic disease outbreak. It might be of interest to know that there are some 32 horse diseases in Australia on the EADRA exotic disease list. In other words, there are 32 diseases we regard as dangerous and which we would move to eliminate and eradicate if we could. Incidentally, it includes rabies and it obviously includes equine influenza, but I draw the Senate's attention to another disease, African horse sickness, which occurred in the United States some years ago where they lost 80,000 horses before they got on top of it.

It was put to me with regard to equine influenza: 'Well it's like human flu, it doesn't kill anyone. Why did we get excited about it? Why are we worrying about this?' African horse sickness exists at the moment in Bahrain, in the Middle East, which is about a 15-hour flight from Australia. It would be totally possible for somebody to unwittingly or illegally bring into Australia a piece of equipment, such as a bit from a bridle, and bring that disease into our country. We would not be looking at a disease that causes a few illnesses and a few abortions in mares; we would be looking at a disease that would kill tens of thousands of horses—not just thoroughbreds but every level of horse. People need to understand that.

I will not go over the excellent contribution of Senator Colbeck with regard to the levy, except to say that the levy is set at zero until or unless we get—and hopefully we never do—one of these exotic diseases which has to be eradicated. Yes, it was eventually decided after a lot of consultation that such a levy would go on concentrated feeds and wormers. In the few moments available to me, I want to recognise, firstly, the excellent work undertaken by Animal Health Australia, particularly its chief executive, Dr Michael Bond. It is that organisation that has responsibility for emergency animal disease responses in all of the other animal species, and the work done by Dr Mike Bond is complementary and should be recognised. I also want to recognise—I think almost for the first time in my 35 or 40 years of involvement with the horse industry—the goodwill that actually did come out of the whole exercise eventually. The Australian racing thoroughbred industry was represented by the Australian Racing Board. The harness racing industry, both the breeding and the racing sides, was represented by Harness Racing Australia. I particularly give credit to the work undertaken by the officials of that organisation. Equestrian Australia was a signatory to the EADRA on behalf of the performance horse industry, and it fell to the Australian Horse Industry Council to represent all of the other horse breeds.

I hosted a dinner here in Parliament House when this process was going on and, amazingly enough, they all got on particularly well. I hope that this actually marks a change in the attitude. You must understand that when it came to equine influenza there was a very strong move by the thoroughbred industry if we could not sign up to EADRA that, through the Primary Industries Ministerial Council, there would have been an allowance for that particular breed group to actually move to vaccination against equine influenza. That would have fractured the industry deeply. For example, it would have stopped the free movement of standard bred horses, trotters and pacers between New Zealand and Australia and it really would have said across the board, 'We as an industry cannot get together.' I am delighted to be able to record that all of that is behind us. It has created a link in which I hope the horse industry goes forward. I hope the horse industry realises that the real competition is not with each other; the real competition, especially on the racing and pacing side, is with other forms of betting, wagering and competition.

I will conclude my comments by saying that the horse industry has been deficient in Australia because it has never come to this place in Canberra with a united voice to represent the interests and concerns of the wider horse industry. I would hope that the signing of this EADRA and everything that flows from it will actually encourage the horse industry executives and representatives to understand that they have a voice and that the voice is heard most strongly when they are a body united. EADRA has done that. I am very proud and pleased to have been part of the process, along with my colleagues Senator Sterle, Senator Colbeck and others, to give effect to the position we find ourselves in today.