Onshore biosecurity levy failure increases risk to Australian agriculture

Sheep Central, May 20, 2020

NFF CEO Tony Mahar

A FEDERAL Government decision to not proceed with an onshore biosecurity levy would place Australian agriculture at greater risk, the National Farmers Federation said today.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment said the Australian Government decided not to proceed with the onshore biosecurity levy following broad industry consultation and further consideration of the impacts on industry.

The government also consider the ongoing impacts of drought, bushfires and COVID-19 on the Australian economy and the rapidly changing global trade environment, the department said.

It said a levy could not be implemented without significant regulatory impacts on industry and proposed levy payers.

NFF chief executive officer Tony Mahar said clearly there has been extra costs associated with drought, bushfires and COVID-19, and the NFF did not want extra costs placed on industry at the moment.

“I would say the ag industry is already paying significant amounts.

“So if that’s the issue we need to consider what measures can assist producers right now – I mean reductions in fees and charges,” he said.

“If that’s the way they are going then we are happy to have that chat too.”

Mr Mahar said the farm sector strongly supported the levy as an important new source of funding for an over-stretched system, and was frustrated by today’s announcement.

“Biosecurity is absolutely critical – not only for primary industries, but for the environment and the health of the community.

“This has certainly been brought home by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“We need a firm and clear commitment from government that they are serious about maintaining the biosecurity of this country.

“Biosecurity is absolutely fundamental to agriculture, and the way biosecurity levy proposal has been handled is of concern to Australia’s farmers,” he said.

“The government can say they have spent $850 million, but we’ve got a $60 billion industry.

The levy was expected to raise an extra $325 million annually from a $10 charge on shipping containers.

Mr Mahar said the imports levy was recommended by experts as a means of targeting a risk-creating activity to generate a sustainable revenue stream for important biosecurity activities like surveillance, research and development.

“We absolutely understand the need for caution with any new regulatory or cost burdens in the current economic climate, but sincerely hope that the government still has an appetite to look at sustainable long-term funding arrangements for biosecurity.

“Resourcing levels must reflect the growth in the biosecurity task – movement of goods, people and vessels will only increase, and this creates biosecurity risk,” he said.

“Multiple reviews have found that the biosecurity system is overstretched. This puts our $60 billion agriculture sector and its potential growth, at risk.

“If government is prepared to commit to adequate long-term resourcing, that’s fantastic,” Mr Mahar said.

“However, the uncertainty this levy proposal has created – particularly given the current circumstances – is a poor look for government.”

The department said the decision will not impact on the overall biosecurity budget and Australia’s biosecurity system will continue to be funded through existing arrangements.

The department said since 2012-13, the budget for biosecurity programs has increased by more than 40 percent, or almost $250 million, with about $850 million available in 2019-20.

It said biosecurity is vital for Australia and delivered important benefits to the community, the environment, our farmers, importers and exporters.

Australia’s biosecurity system also underpinned $60 billion in agricultural production, $49 billion in agricultural exports and $42 billion in inbound tourism, the department said.


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