Proposed Biosecurity Protection Levy Unfair to Australian Farmers
As part of the recent federal budget, the Australian government proposed a new biosecurity protection levy, which will be paid by all producers in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The levy would be set at an equivalent rate of 10% of the industry-led agricultural levies of 2020-21 and is proposed to commence on 1 July, 2024.
Australia’s biosecurity system needs a sustainable and equitable funding model, whereby risk creators are paying proportionately for the risks they create. However, the well-worn adage rolled out by government that ‘biosecurity is everybody’s responsibility’, does not seem applicable here given it is again the producers who are expected to foot the bill.
While acknowledging that producers are significant beneficiaries of good biosecurity this proposal ignores the fact that Australia’s economy and therefore, the general public also benefits greatly from a highly productive ag sector facilitated by a strong biosecurity system. It also fails to target the main risk creators – imports.
This proposed levy is unfair given that producers are already paying a significant amount of money for biosecurity measures, through existing levies and other costs including private investment at a farm gate level.
Whilst details of the levy are still unclear, it is known that money generated from this levy is proposed to go into consolidated revenue, with government defending this decision by stating that there will be ‘increased reporting’ by government on expenditure. This means that not only will industry have no say in how the money generated from producers is spent, but there will also be no real visibility on how this extra money will assist in enhancing biosecurity.
The government has also claimed that the proposed levy will be ‘relatively small’ for producers, with the levy expected to generate around $50 million per annum across commodities, however, regardless of how the government tries to spin this new tax, it is another additional cost to producers, including sheep and wool producers, who are currently experiencing falling prices across meat and wool.
Another example of this disproportionate contribution by growers, is the current deliberations around the roll out of electronic identification (eID) for sheep and goats. Putting aside the pros or cons of industry going down this path, both federal and state governments are imposing this on industry in the name of biosecurity, however with predicted implementation costs of $800 million over the next 10 years for national eID, the current commitment of $20.1 million from the federal government falls very short of shared and equitable responsibilities and costs. Again, it will be producers left paying the bills.
The Australian government needs to reconsider the proposal and find a more equitable way to fund biosecurity measures.