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Livestock industries condemn Govt’s surprise move on biosecurity levy

Terry Sim, 28/02/2024

AUSTRALIA’S livestock industries have reacted angrily to the Albanese Government’s persistence with biosecurity levy legislation today, despite broad industry disapproval.

Despite blanket industry disapproval for a revised biosecurity levy model for producers based on the average Gross Value Product of each commodity, the government today introduced legislation to levy the BPL on farmers.

National Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said the move by the Albanese Government to table new laws to establish the biosecurity protection levy to raise $50 million from farmers ‘to bankroll activities that assist importers, airlines and other risk creators’ was “utterly staggering” given the level of opposition to the policy.

The NFF is calling on parliamentarians to reject the biosecurity levy bills.

“If the Government won’t listen, we can only hope that the Opposition and crossbenchers will.

“Establishing a new tax is a serious matter for the Parliament to consider. Waving one through with this many hairs on it would be a policy disaster,” Mr Jochinke said.

Mr Jochinke said everyone from the productivity commission, to the Australian National University and the Freight & Trade Alliance has labelled the BPL policy a dud.

“It makes zero economic sense,” he said.

“No farming group wants it. It’s an administrative nightmare,” Mr Jochinke said.

“And now we even have the importers themselves even calling to scrap it and send them the bill instead!

“We’re shocked to say the least that they’d ignore the unanimous voices of farmers, importers and policy experts,” the NFF leader said.

“If they aren’t listening to this broad church of voices, who are they listening to?”

Advisory panel will have no powers to change proposed levy

The tabling of legislation coincided with a media announcement from Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt of a sustainable biosecurity funding advisory panel’ aimed at easing industry concerns about oversight of the funding.

Mr Watt said the Sustainable Biosecurity Funding Advisory Panel will allow the government to meet regularly with those who have a stake in our strong biosecurity protections, show them what the government is doing and allow them to have input into future priorities.

He said the government continued to listen carefully to feedback on implementation of the Sustainable Biosecurity Funding model.

“I am determined to ensure that we implement a fair, equitable and transparent model for biosecurity funding in Australia.

“Industry has said loud and clear that they want more say in how we use biosecurity funds, and the Albanese Government has listened,” he said.

Minister Watt said the advisory panel will meet three times a year and its membership will be drawn from major agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors, importers and research organisations.

“We will be clear about what revenue is being raised from producers and importers, along with other components of the Sustainable Biosecurity Funding model, and how that money is being invested.

“The government will work with the Advisory Panel to ensure that biosecurity priorities identified by industry are clearly understood and acted upon.”

However a DAFF spokesperson said the advisory panel will have the ability to advise on future priorities for biosecurity funding, though not the current model.

“The model – as announced by the Minister a fortnight ago – will be the model put before the parliament later this morning,” the spokesperson said.

“This advisory panel will have the ability to advise on future priorities for biosecurity funding.”

Mr Jochinke said the advisory panel announcement had been met with cynicism by industry stakeholders.

“It’s pretty clear this panel is being tacked on at the 11th hour to try and give the levy some credibility.

“All it’s done is demonstrate the continued shambles this process has become – with stakeholders yet to receive formal invites, or any detail on the panel’s scope and role,” he said.

“Given we flat out oppose the biosecurity levy, we’ll think carefully about any role that might be construed as endorsement.”

“We note the panel doesn’t seem to be reflected in the legislation tabled today, so it certainly doesn’t guarantee farmers the oversight they were seeking. Once again, that’s completely out of step with the usual design of industry levies.”

Cattle Australia welcomes panel advisory opportunity

Cattle Australia welcomed the Federal Government’s move to boost transparency for farmers with the establishment of a new Sustainable Biosecurity Funding Advisory Panel.

CA chief executive officer, Dr Chris Parker, said while the terms of reference for the panel will be the ultimate test, having a seat at the table on the advisory panel is integral to holding the Albanese Government to account on its Sustainable Biosecurity Funding model and ensuring it delivers for grass-fed producers while improving Australia’s biosecurity.

“Cattle Australia has been critical of the introduction of the biosecurity protection levy since its announcement in last year’s Federal Budget, citing the lack of industry consultation, the serious inequalities of the new tax, and inadequate oversight and safeguards,” Dr Parker said.

“We are pleased the government has listened and for the first time, grass-fed cattle producers will have the ability, through CA, to directly set and monitor the progress of biosecurity priorities and assess the financial performance of the Department’s biosecurity system.

“At a time when the complexity of biosecurity challenges continues to increase, this is a genuine opportunity to influence and advise government on a better biosecurity system that addresses these threats, particularly those to our north.”

NSW Farmers has no confidence that farmers are being heard

NSW Farmers biosecurity committee chair Ian McColl said despite Mr Watt inviting members of industry to an advisory panel to guide the nation’s biosecurity spend, he had no confidence that farmers’ concerns around the levy had been heard.

“Our message has been very clear – we oppose the biosecurity levy bill in its current form, and we do not believe this tax should be imposed on farmers.

“As we’ve said time and time again, farmers already pay far more than their fair share to fund the nation’s biosecurity system, and they are also incurring huge costs to protect their businesses against biosecurity threats,” Mr McColl said.

“Meanwhile, there is no container levy imposed on importers, despite their recent offers to contribute more to the cause.”

As several peak bodies in the sector received invitations to sit on the Sustainable Biosecurity Funding Advisory Panel, Mr McColl warned the panel would not serve to address the issues raised by farm leaders around the levy bill.

“The creation of this panel is the Federal Government’s way of saying they have listened to industry – but if they were truly listening, the tax on farmers would not be proceeding,” Mr McColl said.

“To date, the issues that farmers, researchers and even the Productivity Commission have raised around the levy bill’s design have not been addressed.

“If the peak industry councils who are representing farmers truly oppose the levy, then they will not accept this tokenistic invitation to sit at the Department of Agriculture’s table,” he said.

Mr McColl said creating a panel to ‘consult’ farm leaders on biosecurity at the eleventh hour, with little detail as to the role of the panel itself, is just symbolic of the mess this whole process has been.

Labor’s treatment of farmers is shameful – Littleproud

Leader of The Nationals David Littleproud said Labor’s biosecurity protection levy will charge Australian farmers for the biosecurity costs importers impose to bring their product to Australia.

“Labor continues to create a mess of its new fresh food tax during a cost-of-living crisis.

“Labor’s treatment of our farmers is shameful,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Farmers will inevitably be forced to pass these costs onto consumers, so the tax will also be felt by families at the checkout.”

Mr Littleproud said Labor will set the BPL tax rate as a proportion of an industry’s average gross value of production over a three-year period.

However, the Bill introduced lacks any detail of the cost to farmers or how the levy will be collected, he said. It also states the rate of the levy can be set to nil, in case the cost of collecting the levy in some sectors actually exceeds the revenue raised from it.

“Farmers are still in the dark about this new levy – Labor still needs to come up with exact costs and the rate they will be taxed.

“This has created more confusion and anxiety.”

“In what parallel universe would any Australian government tax their own farmers, to pay for foreigners to bring their products into this country?

“Agriculture Minister Murray Watt is out of his depth and doesn’t understand the industry, yet he is still determined to tax our farmers and prioritise importers.”

Mr Littleproud said Labor should drop the tax and instead mirror the Coalition’s importer container levy.

“The Nationals stand by our farmers and will fight this senseless new tax.”

Mr Watt said under the proposed Sustainable Biosecurity Funding model, when fully implemented from 1 July 2024, importers will pay 48percent of Australia’s biosecurity costs, taxpayers will contribute 44pc, producers 6pc and Australia Post 2pc.

“By doing the right thing and making importers pay their fair share for the first time since 2015, we have already raised $235 million from importers since 1 July 2023.

“This includes extra cost recovery revenue of $30 million compared to what would have happened under the former government’s failed funding model.”

Mr Watt said the cost of the BPL is around 0.05pc of the total value of agriculture, fisheries and forestry production, equivalent to 5 cents for every 100 dollars created in the industry.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Paul Lobegeier, 29/02/2024

    This tax on hard working Australians farms is normal when Labor is in power You have to understand that Labor dislike all farmers and only see farmers as a industry that has no political power that can be easily taxed. We are price takes not makers in that Labor knowns and new tax or change will not be past on to their voting base but taken from the farmer pocket. If we don’t like this we have to get political power and vote them out. We as all farmer need to act as one and vote that way.

  2. Peter Lee, 28/02/2024

    Can I remind Mr Littlepround farmers are price takers not price setters.

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