12 July 2023

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

Biosecurity has again been in the news of late with ongoing concerns around varroa mite in NSW bee populations, and Northern Rivers prawn fishers faced with a disease thought to have arrived in Australia via imported prawns. It only highlights our nation’s vulnerability to pests and diseases from overseas and the devastating impacts on our local industries and producers.

In this year’s federal budget, the government announced it would provide an extra $1 billion dollars over four years to strengthen the system, including greater regulation, surveillance and international engagement. All good news for something that’s so vital to Australia’s long-term economic and social wellbeing.

Included in the budget as part of the biosecurity announcement was a biosecurity protection levy to be set at a rate equivalent to 10 per cent of the 2020–21 industry-led agricultural levies. Critics have been quick to label it a ‘tax’ on producers, while the government has described it as a “modest ask of producers” who are among “the principal beneficiaries” of a strong biosecurity network.

That is true up to a point as it can’t be denied that a robust and responsive biosecurity scheme helps protect the livelihood of our producers, many of whom currently benefit from the ‘clean’ status of Australian agricultural products. However, the whole nation depends on our agricultural exports which contribute enormously to Australia’s strong economic position, which ultimately benefits all of us. As consumers, too, we know that the Australian products we’re purchasing are ‘safe’ from many of the pests and diseases that plague other countries.

As I said in a previous column on this subject, protecting our nation from overseas ‘invaders’ is a responsibility of us all. Even if it’s just ensuring that anything you bring home from an overseas holiday complies with our quarantine and biosecurity requirements. Just because you’re not a farmer, doesn’t mean biosecurity doesn’t affect you – that’s the message we need to convey. Is it fair for our agricultural industry to bear the full burden of this new levy when other industries and stakeholders would also potentially be affected to varying degrees by a major biosecurity breach? And, as a farmer, I don’t believe we should be doing all the heavy lifting!

While the federal government has flagged the new levy will go towards improved biosecurity measures, critics have questioned whether this will actually be the case, suggesting it will be funnelled into more general revenue. The government needs to clarify the position on this, and assure farmers that if in fact they’re up for another levy, that it’s going towards biosecurity upgrades and new initiatives. Transparency on this is vital, and expected.

NSW Farmers is also among those calling on the federal government to implement a requirement for importers to pay a container levy, arguing those who create biosecurity risks should invest in prevention and management of those risks, shouldering some of the financial responsibility. Given the number of imports coming into the country, and the value of these imports, this proposal seems worth serious consideration.

This is an issue of the highest priority and we have to get it right with a biosecurity program that exploits every tool and strategy at our disposal, instils confidence in all stakeholders, and shares the cost equitably.

To read this article in The Land newspaper, visit https://www.theland.com.au/story/8266582/agriculture-shouldnt-be-doing-all-the-heavy-lifting/?cs=5739

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