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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6363

Senator O'BRIEN (12:46 PM) —The Australian Animal Health Council (Live-stock Industries) Funding Amendment Bill 2002 will enable levies and charges to be appropriated to Animal Health Australia to repay the Commonwealth for underwriting the livestock industry's share of costs of responding to emergency animal diseases. In 1998, the then Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand, known as ARMCANZ, agreed to develop a national policy on funding principles for pest and disease emergency management. The Australian Animal Health Council, also known as Animal Health Australia, undertook industry consultation and coordinated the development of a new emergency animal disease response cost sharing arrangement. The government advises that this arrangement has broad industry support. This arrangement, known as the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, provides for cost sharing between affected industries and government. It replaces a previous Commonwealth-state agreement.

Under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, the Commonwealth will underwrite the costs of reacting to an emergency animal disease outbreak, subject to an appropriate repayment scheme involving participating industries. Livestock industries subject to this arrangement will fund their responsibilities through a new animal health disease levy. The levy will initially be set at zero with the exception of the honey bee industry, as this industry has chosen to impose a levy to create a funding reserve.

The new animal disease response levies and charges will be imposed on the participating industries by regulation under the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 and the Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Act 1999. To allow the repayment arrangements to come into law, it is necessary to amend the Australian Animal Health Council (Live-stock Industries) Funding Act 1996. These amendments will enable repayments to be appropriated to the Australian Animal Health Council from consolidated revenue and used to repay the Commonwealth. Once a debt to the Commonwealth is known, the emergency animal disease levy will be activated and the levy funds will flow to the Commonwealth. These funds will then be disbursed to the Australian Animal Health Council. That council will manage the funds on behalf of the relevant industry and repay the industry's debt to the Commonwealth.

The bill provides for any levy funds collected in excess of the Commonwealth debt to be redirected to the promotion or maintenance of animal health, including redirection to the industry's research and development corporation. These levy funds redirected to research and development will not be matched by the Commonwealth. The government—particularly the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, I might say—do not have a great record on livestock industry matters. The minister's ongoing war of words with the beef industry's peak bodies and his bungling of the administration of Australia's US beef quota are good examples of that poor performance. Nonetheless, I would have to say that it seems the minister has, in this instance, been prepared to work cooperatively with Australia's livestock industries to develop a new animal disease response arrangement, and this bill is a key component of this arrangement. In this case, I am therefore pleased to indicate the support of the opposition to the government's legislation.