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Bodies call for detail on revised biosecurity levy

Liz Wells, February 15, 2024

Ghost is one of the detector dogs working at Adelaide Airport, and recently sniffed out this haul of frangipani flowers, and cooked meat and eggs, for which the bearer was fined $3756. Photo: DAFF

FOLLOWING feedback from industry, the Federal Government on Tuesday announced changes to the Biosecurity Protection Levy (BPL) on track to be introduced on July 1.

The news came from Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt as he fronted Senate Estimates.

While it has been cautiously welcomed by Australia’s two peak grain bodies, GrainGrowers and Grain Producers Australia, the National Farmers’ Federation and NSW Farmers can find little in the revised model to like.

Criticism is largely centred around a lack of detail on what each commodity will pay, and the model’s potential overlap with existing levies already paid by growers and others in the supply chain.

In a statement, the government said changes have been made following feedback from industry bodies and stakeholders.

“Rates will now be set according to an industry’s average share of gross agriculture, fisheries and forestry production over a rolling three-year period,” the statement said.

“The rates will be set using a common and equitable basis for all industry sector products and goods and will not be set by reference to 2020-21 agricultural levy rates.

“In addition, imposition of the levy will be tailored to individual products and goods to reduce multiple imposition points across a product’s supply chain.

“Also, these changes will ensure that sectors who previously would not have contributed to the BPL, because they do not collect levy payments, are included in the contributions.”

The costing split in the revised model is unchanged from the initial one announced in August, with producers to contribute about 6 percent, importers 48pc, taxpayers 44pc, and Australia Post 2pc.

The initial model showed the levy on producers for 2024-25 was expected to collection around $47.5 million of the $804.6M needed to boost Australia’s biosecurity protection, and producer groups are now pondering what the carve-up will look like.

Tuesday’s release included a table outlining a comparison between the initial model, with wheat the only broadacre crop mentioned.

 

Grower bodies are waiting on provision of the contribution other major export crops including barley, canola, cotton, pulses, and sorghum.

Following is a round-up of responses from industry bodies to the revised model:

GrainGrowers

GrainGrowers said changes announced to the proposed Biosecurity Protection Levy are an important step forward in developing a sustainable system and addressing some of the concerns raised by industry.

“While there are still issues to be addressed, the announcement is a positive step, and we look forward to further discussions, particularly around accountability and performance issues,” GrainGrowers chair Rhys Turton said

Mr Turton said while industry was still analysing the proposed changes, initial suggestions were that the approach was equitable and would likely result in decreased funding imposition for grains.

“As an industry, we asked for a more equitable system, and this is a step down that path.

Mr Turton said the grains industry already makes a significant contribution through investment in research and development, support for Plant Health Australia, contributions to emergency plant pest responses, as taxpayers and in the everyday operations of their farm enterprises.

“What we need is a biosecurity system that industry is confident in, and that can meet the needs of Australian agriculture.

“A strong, workable system that protects industry from pests and diseases is in the interests of everyone.”

“The Minister has said he is committed to strengthening transparency and accountability, and we look forward to further discussion and his announcement on priorities and future spending in the coming weeks.”

Grain Producers Australia

Likewise, Grain Producers Australia has welcomed this week’s announcements with regard to the proposed biosecurity levy.

However, GPA chair and Western Australian grower Barry Large said details needed to be outlined to ensure the revised model would improve fairness.

“In particular, GPA remains concerned agricultural producers are being labelled ‘beneficiaries’ in justifying the imposition of this new levy/tax on them, when we know there are many beneficiaries of strong biosecurity.

“These beneficiaries extend from the paddock through to the supermarket checkout, and increased tax generation for the nation.

“When considering their position on the draft legislation, GPA urges Federal MPs and Senators to take time to understand the detail of the serious concerns raised by so many producers.

“Hitting farmers with another cost of doing business now via another tax does not align with the rhetoric about taking action to ensure farmers are receiving a fair share of the retail dollar.”

GPA chief executive Colin Bettles said it was still unclear whether grain producers will pay any more or less than the proposed 10 per cent.

He said clarity was needed on rates for individual commodities, and how that would align with levies producers already pay.

“Producers already pay hundreds of millions of dollars in levies – including biosecurity – to deliver multiple public good benefits for the nation,” Mr Bettles said.

“GPA remains concerned about the processes undertake to implement this new ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy and its undermining of trust and confidence in the existing levy system.

“We need to ensure this new policy actually improves biosecurity protections for producers and is not just a new mechanism for adding to government consolidated revenue, by more cost-shifting onto producers.

National Farmers Federation

The National Farmers’ Federation said producers will continue to remain opposed to the BPL policy at least until further detail on the revised model is provided.

“The agricultural sector, along with supply-chain participants, has overwhelmingly objected to the levy, identifying numerous issues with the policy construct and execution pathway,” NFF president David Jochinke said:

“Australia’s 85,000 farmers, along with thousands of supply chain participants, are still faced with what appears a fundamentally flawed proposal to be implemented in less than five months.

“There is still a gaping hole in information and we call on the government to keep listening to producers and put in a process to properly address their concerns.

In October, the NFF Members’ Council as the sector’s chief policy-making forum comprising all NFF member presidents from state and commodity organisations, passed a motion opposing the policy.”

Mr Jochinke said Mr Watt’s comments acknowledged concerns held by industry, including issues related to equitability and transparency.

“However we still await significant further information concerning the levy’s design, and what it will practically look like for producers on the ground.

The NFF is calling for detail on:

  • Potential impact on the existing levies system;
  • Transparency about how the collected funds will deliver dedicated, additional and tangible biosecurity outcomes;
  • Formalised producer oversight mechanisms; and,
  • Proper recognition of existing producer contributions to the broader biosecurity system.

“Until such a time that these issues are addressed properly, we remain opposed to the levy.”

NSW Farmers

NSW Farmers remains opposed to the PBL being imposed on Australia’s primary producers, saying agriculture already pays its fair share towards biosecurity funding.

NSW Farmers policy director Ash Cooper said at least until industry gets clear details around a series of proposed changes to the levy bill, it was holding its stance.

“Collecting an extra $50 million a year from Australian farmers to cover biosecurity costs is just simply double-dipping,” Mr Cooper said.

“Farmers are not only already contributing a significant amount of levy dollars towards biosecurity but are also personally bearing billions of dollars in costs each year in the fight against weeds, pests and other biosecurity risks on-farm.

“Biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility, so we shouldn’t sit back and let farmers cop these costs when they’re already doing so much to manage these risks.”

Mr Cooper said information to hand this week about the revised BPL model gives no detail on issues raised by NSW Farmers, such as whether the levy will be collected only once in a product’s life.

“The change in shifting the levy rate to be based upon gross value of production may cause inequitable contributions across commodities forced to pay the levy.

“Worse still, farmers are being forced to incur significant extra costs to ensure biosecurity while there continues to be no container levy imposed on risk creators such as importers.

“If a biosecurity tax is to be introduced, it should be collected from passengers and products entering Australia, and not just farmers who are already contributing to the biosecurity cause.”

With the levy set to be implemented on July 1 this year, Mr Cooper warned now was the time for the Federal Government to take the advice of the agricultural sector on board before it was too late.

“We welcome the government’s talk of keeping our country safe from risks such as foot and mouth disease, but this is not the way to do it,” Mr Cooper said.

“A recent Senate committee report on agricultural levies heard our concerns around the levy, but now we need to see these concerns addressed and clarified in further changes to the biosecurity levy bill if it is going to proceed.

“We all need to work together if we’re going to develop a solution that will bolster our biosecurity and protect the prosperity of our industry for generations to come.”

Source: Federal Government, GrainGrowers, GPA, NFF, NSW Farmers

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