Ag Minister Watt flags higher import biosecurity charges

Beef Central, 27/04/2023

Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt, left, inspects some contaminated machinery with assistant director of the DAFF biosecurity program Alan Self.

MINISTER for Agriculture Murray Watt has flagged higher fees and charges for importers as part of a sustainable biosecurity funding model.

During a port inspection of contaminated machinery at Lytton near the Port of Brisbane today, Mr Watt said biosecurity risk creators and beneficiaries have to “all pay our way.”

Mr Watt would not comment on how farmers would be impacted under a new biosecurity funding model.

He said stakeholders would need to wait on the May Budget to see what the Federal Government would be spending on biosecurity and how that will be paid for.

“But what I can guarantee Australian farmers is that under the Albanese Government, we will continue to have a world-class biosecurity system and what I want to achieve through the budget negotiations is a higher level of biosecurity funding than this country has ever had and a more certain level of biosecurity funding than we’ve ever had.

“That’s what I am working towards and that I think will be very much welcomed by farmers.”

Mr Watt said the delivery of sustainable biosecurity funding has never happened in Australia.

“Over the last 10 years the Coalition had “comprehensively failed” to put in place funding that would ensure the agricultural sector and the rest of the country would be protected the way that it should be.

“So we need to make sure that we move towards permanent dedicated funding for biosecurity rather than top measures year-to-year, which is what we’ve seen in years gone by and that’s the way that we can make sure that we keep our agriculture safe from the sorts of things that we can see in this machinery here today.”

Standing before a piece of contaminated machinery that will be returned back to its country of origin, Mr Watt said it was a demonstration of the increasing biosecurity risks face by Australia and needed to put in place a sustainable biosecurity funding system.

“And importantly that that system has to be funded fairly and that burden has to be shared across the community.

“Biosecurity is a shared responsibility and so is funding it,” he said.

“So we need to make sure the taxpayers are putting in our share through the government, but we also need to make sure that risk creators, like importers, are paying their share and also the beneficiaries pay their share as well because it is in all of our interests to keep agriculture safe and have a strong biosecurity system.”

Mr Watt said a rising proportion of machinery and car imports contained soil and other contaminated material containing diseases. In the Port of Brisbane, last year about 12,500 containers were of a biosecurity concern and 11 percent contained biosecurity risk material, he said. The number of cars imported through Brisbane increased 4pc last year, but the number of contaminated cars went up by 62pc.

“So there’s a very disproportionate numbers of cars that are coming in to the Port of Brisbane that are contaminated with biosecurity and that’s the case for every one of our major ports around the country.”

Mr Watt attributed the rise in contaminated machinery and cars to storage in paddocks during COVID.

“And unfortunately we haven’t seen car makers and importers take enough responsibility for cleaning those products before they get to Australian shores.”

Car makers and importers have been advised of Australia’s cleaning standards before loading on vessels, he said.

As to who should pay for cleaning imported cars and machinery, Mr Watt said Australia needed to ensure that the cost of providing biosecurity services is shared across the community.

“And that includes making sure that risk creators, like importers, and people who benefit from the biosecurity system, all pay their way as well.

“We’ve all got a common interest in making sure that our agriculture sector and our natural environment is kept safe from these types of diseases and what that means is that we all have to pay our way.”

DAFF consulting about increasing import fees and charges

Mr Watt said his Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is consulting with importers about increasing biosecurity fees and charges on imports.

“And unfortunately, under the Coalition, those fees and charges haven’t been substantially reviewed since 2015.

“Now what that means is that of course the cost of providing biosecurity services continues to rise, but we haven’t had the income coming in from importers that we need to pay for those services,”

“You’ve probably seen media coverage of the impact that has had on the departmental budget.

“So we do need to be having a discussion with importers, with producers, with the wider community about how we share the ever-increasing cost of providing biosecurity services.”

He said the Federal Budget currently provides about $600 million year for biosecurity services, including inspectors, and head office staff. Importer fees and charges vary with types of imports.

“But one of the things that we are consulting with importers right now is lifting the FID (Full Import Declarations) charges ….. we are looking to having to increase that by $5 per import declaration, because again, that’s a fee that hasn’t been raised for several years while costs have gone up.

“The major focus of our efforts at the moment is simply getting a fee structure in place which sees importers pay their way, pay their share, and provide us with the revenue that we need to provide a very strong biosecurity system that keeps our agricultural industry safe,” he said.

“Of course, people will need to wait for the (May) budget to what we are going to be spending on biosecurity and how that is going to be paid for,” he said.

“But what I can say is that I am in active discussions with the Treasurer, the Finance Minister and my Cabinet colleagues about how much we should be spending on our biosecurity system and how that should be paid for.

“So it will be budget night that we will be able to tell people exactly what we are spending and how that will be paid for.”

Mr Watt said his Cabinet colleagues are negotiating hard to get the maximum funding for their portfolios.

“And I’m certainly doing that when it comes to agriculture and biosecurity.”

Mr Watt said a sustainable biosecurity funding system meant locking in every year a consistent amount of money indexed to keep up with cost increases that provides the services that Australia needs.

“And if we can do that through this budget, or a future budget, then that will overcome the problem that we’ve had for the last few years, which is that the base funding for biosecurity just hasn’t been enough to deliver the services that are actually needed.”

NFF supports ‘risk creators’ investing in biosecurity

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said given the increasing pressures in our region and at our border, as well as growing inbound trade flows, the NFF, along with a significant number of sectors, supports a levy-like charge on inbound freight for reinvestment in biosecurity measures.

“It’s only reasonable that risk creators contribute to addressing this growing task given all the evidence suggests preventative measurers are the most effective form of biosecurity investment.

“Everybody has a stake in protecting our biosecurity, and everybody has a role to play,” she said.

“Producers so often directly bear the burden of when biosecurity breaches occur, and given this Australian agriculture makes significant contributions to the biosecurity system.

“These contributions include producer levies funding the important work of organisations including Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia as well as the broader work of the Rural Research and Development corporations network in biosecurity research, extension and adoption,” Ms Simson said.

“Most industries have formalised cost-sharing arrangements in place to fund industry recovery following specific disease and incursion events.

“Many industries have funded, adopted and continue to advance world-leading technology, such as traceability systems, as well as industry-led best practice accreditation schemes to ensure no stone is unturned in what they can do to prevent and respond to any incursion events,” she said.

“The Federal Government has an important role to play in progressing a more sustainable funding model for this national task.”






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