Today’s announcement by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment that the Government would not be proceeding with a long-awaited levy to bolster the national biosecurity system comes as a blow to Australia’s farmers.
The levy was first proposed in a 2017 independent review, which found that the national biosecurity system was underfunded, and recommended the introduction of a levy on imports to generate revenue for important biosecurity functions that couldn’t be cost recovered.
National Farmers’ Federation CEO Tony Mahar said the farm sector strongly supported the levy as an important new source of funding for an overstretched system, and was frustrated by today’s announcement.
“Biosecurity is absolutely critical – not only for primary industries, but for the environment and the health of the community. This has certainly been brought home by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need a firm and clear commitment from government that they are serious about maintaining the biosecurity of this country.
“Biosecurity is absolutely fundamental to agriculture, and the way biosecurity levy proposal has been handled is of concern to Australia’s farmers.”
Mr Mahar said the biosecurity levy proposal had consumed a significant amount of time and effort from industry and governments over a number of years, and that today’s decision had put that effort to waste.
“The imports levy was recommended by experts as a means of targeting a risk-creating activity to generate a sustainable revenue stream for important biosecurity activities like surveillance and R&D.
“We absolutely understand the need for caution with any new regulatory or cost burdens in the current economic climate, but sincerely hope that the government still has an appetite to look at sustainable long-term funding arrangements for biosecurity.
“Resourcing levels must reflect the growth in the biosecurity task – movement of goods, people and vessels will only increase, and this creates biosecurity risk.
“Multiple reviews have found that the biosecurity system is overstretched. This puts our $60 billion agriculture sector and its potential growth, at risk.
“If government is prepared to commit to adequate long-term resourcing, that’s fantastic.
“However, the uncertainty this levy proposal has created – particularly given the current circumstances – is a poor look for government.”
Earlier this month the NFF Members Council endorsed a new biosecurity policy statement, calling for a national biosecurity strategy and long-term investment plan for the system, collaboratively developed, funded and implemented by governments and industry. The statement is available here.
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