Biosecurity levy surprise

Tasmanian peak farming body has slammed the Federal government’s proposal of a new biosecurity levy that will see an increase in fees for farmers.

Tasmanian primary producers will be hit with a new surprise levy to help biosecurity measures as part of the Budget on Tuesday.

The levy will be charged at a rate equivalent to 10 per cent of the industry-led agriculture levies of 2020-21, netting the Federal Government a total of $153 million in just three years and will commence from July 1 2024.

President of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, Ian Sauer said that the government has forgotten that farmers are always wearing the cost of biosecurity incursions and that the new levy will add unnecessary complexity.  

“They wear an economic cost, a social cost and sometimes it’s an environmental cost, it’s the farmer that wears that and I don’t know what they don’t understand,” Mr Sauer said.

“This biosecurity levy is being levied upon the whole agricultural chain at the farm gate through cents per cattle or per chicken. I do not know how this is going to be administered, it’s going to be a joke.”

Mr Sauer fully supports Australia’s current investments into border control but said there has been no discussion between the government and agricultural sector on the new levy. 

“The fundamental principal of making sure that biosecurity is recognized internationally as first class is essential but it’s how we get there and pay for it is what we’ve got concerns with,” Mr Sauer said.

“I see it (the levy) as a very costly and complex thing to administer. How are you going to count up how many chickens were sold?”

“What happens if you have a 1.5 percent death rate of chickens that go in, do you pay in for the dead chickens and same with cents per litre for honey.”

“Again it will be up to the farmer to provide all that information.”

“Governments’ role is to be able to create an environment that allows an industry to flourish and grow to be effective and efficient, we are not there to do the paperwork for the government.”

Minister for Primary Industries and Water Jo Palmer said that Australia’s biosecurity system is the industry’s first line of defence.

“While the Tasmanian Government welcomes the additional funding for biosecurity measures, we are closely reviewing the impact of the Federal Government’s tax on farmers to pay for these initiatives,” Ms Palmer said.

A lack of consultation and about major increases to biosecurity levies in the Federal Budget has also been criticised by Tasmania’s peak fruit grower body.

Fruit Growers Tasmania chief executive officer Peter Cornish said it was disappointing the Federal Government had not consulted with industry about the changes, which will see growers forced to pay for a significant increase in biosecurity charges.

Because the increase is being applied to total levy producers currently pay, which includes funding for other industry activities like research and development and marketing, Mr Cornish said the increase to the actual biosecurity component is huge.

With apples for example, the biosecurity component of the current per kilogram levy is .07 cents, however this will increase to .26 cents, a jump of more than 200 per cent.

By applying the 10 per cent increase to overall levies, not just the biosecurity component, Mr Cornish said some producers would be hit harders than others.

“For any of the ones that have a high level of research and development as a component or marketing as a component of their levy, it’s going to cost them relatively even more because the 10 per cent is a misnomer,” he said.

“We acknowledge that we do benefit from this, but we already do a whole heap of work in biosecurity and this poses a very big increase and there’s been no consultation. This is really about stopping exotic pests coming into the country. Yes, we benefit but we already pay.”

Importers are also expected to contribute to biosecurity costs with increased fees on clearance costs expected to take their total contribution to $350 million next year.

Of the $1 billion in extra biosecurity funding announced in the Budget about six per cent or $47 million will come from this new levy on domestic producers.