GPA, GrainGrowers critical of proposed biosecurity levy

Emma Alsop, April 24, 2024

GrainGrowers general manager policy and advocacy Zachary Whale and GPA chief executive Colin Bettles presented their respective cases to a senate inquiry into the Federal Government’s proposed Biosecurity Protection Levy.

GRAIN Producers Australia and GrainGrowers were united in opposition to the current Biosecurity Protection Levy framework when representatives fronted a senate inquiry into the proposed legislation yesterday.

This was despite the groups presenting diverging approaches to the consultation process with GrainGrowers providing amendments to the legislation in exchange for its support and GPA calling for a complete change of policy.

The discussion also raised questions regarding the use and oversight of the grains industry’s current levy funds.

GPA chief executive Colin Bettles and GrainGrowers general manager – policy and advocacy Zachary Whale appeared at the hearing alongside other agricultural industry groups and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Hosted by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, the hearing sought industry views on the proposed BPL and accompanying legislation, including garnering interest in the Sustainable Biosecurity Funding Advisory Panel.

The grains industry would contribute the largest chunk of any commodity impacted by the legislation, an estimated $12.25M out of a total $51.8M.

Mr Whale said GrainGrowers was broadly supportive of increasing funding for biosecurity protection but had concerns with “process that’s been undertaken to design and develop the measure” and that the levy was imposed “beneficiaries rather than risk creators”.

He said the organisation was “supportive of the biosecurity protection levy” if the government offered more “transparency and accountability” and tangible benefits for agricultural industries.

“The way we would approach this is that we would accept that cost providing there are really clear guarantees that there’s demonstrable benefit back to those who are bearing the cost,” Mr Whale said.

“It is a real concern that, if they are paying for something, it could just be money that goes into a pot and the black box of security could happen without any involvement from agricultural industries.”

Mr Bettles said GPA hadn’t offered any suggestions for amendments as the “the policy itself [was] fundamentally flawed”.

“[W]e haven’t been asked for our views on this, so the policy design is very flawed, and I don’t see how any amendments can make it fair or equitable,” Mr Bettles said.

Acting Chair Labor Senator Raff Ciccone questioned whether the cost to the grains industry, estimated to be 0.06 per cent of the average annual value of the sector, was a small price to pay for increased biosecurity protections.

Mr Whale said growers were open to paying more if there was a clear, communicated benefit achieved by the levy funds.

Mr Bettles said GPA understood the funds were “still going into consolidated revenue” and could not be counted on to create positive change for growers.

BPL from existing levies

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson asked representatives whether the industry would support the BPL coming directly from levies already paid by growers.

Currently growers contribute 1.02pc of net crop sales towards levies that support a range of industry initiatives.

Most of these funds, 0.99pc, goes to GRDC, with Plant Health Australia receiving the next largest portion at 0.01pc.

Mr Whale said GrainGrowers was not supportive of the GRDC funds being used for BPL.

He said under the current legislation, funds can only be used for research and development purposes “provided they offer a clear benefit back to growers”.

“GrainGrowers’ policy position is that the research and development funding is sacrosanct and should be spent on on-farm activities like improving yield and dealing with the really significant challenges we are going to have to grapple with… not to be confused or conflated with, say, pre and at-border biosecurity inspections.

“The GRDC does invest in the biosecurity activities that contribute to the profitability and ongoing sustainability of farmers, but it would not be able to divert that revenue to something like pre- and at-border biosecurity activities, which are distinctly different.”

Mr Bettles said GPA was supportive of seeking grower interest in directing more levy funds towards biosecurity protections.

He said, if this were to occur, funds would go to an organisation, such as PHA, and not to pay for the BPL.

Levy review needed

Mr Bettles said GPA had been in the process of reviewing levies paid by growers when the BPL was announced by government.

He said the legislation “sabotaged” attempts to give growers more say over how their levies are spent.

“For $50 million, we really don’t think it’s worth the trouble and the risk that it creates to the existing levy system, where producers have already indicated in some groups that there will be a reduction in RD&E levies because, quite simply, not been asked how they would like to spend their current levies first, before this was announced, has really perplexed them.”

Mr Bettles said GRDC had about $500M accumulating in strategic reserves, some of which could further support PHA and biosecurity activities.

“[O]ur value proposition for increasing the PHA levy is not just the $500 million that is in strategic reserves but also the grains biosecurity plan.

“There are 50 projects there that have been identified in the implementation table…and that’s still not funded.”

Mr Bettles said growers would decision if any changes would need to be made to how levies are spent.

“What we’re talking about is probably future levy allocations and having a conversation that’s in the modern context about what the modern challenges are.

“That’s why we are going through that process, recognising we have more in strategic reserves and so there could be a reallocation of future levies which would mean GRDC can still continue to fund RD&E without any dramas.”

If passed by the Senate, the Biosecurity Protection Levy will commence on July 1.

The legislation has moved through the House of Representatives, and is awaiting a Senate vote.

It is expected that the Senate will vote on the legislation following the release of the RRATLC report, due to be completed by May 10.


Grain Central: Get our free news straight to your inbox – Click here


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


Get Grain Central's news headlines emailed to you -