Importers to foot biosecurity bill

By Country News

A new biosecurity levy is set to be implemented, despite the shipping industry criticising the Federal Government’s plan to have it foot the bill.

Announced in last year’s federal budget, the levy would apply to all cargo coming to Australia, except military equipment.

The levy is projected to raise $325million over three years once it is operating, with government hoping to make it law by next financial year.

Yet Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources deputy secretary Lyn O’Connell said consultation had not revealed much support for the idea.

‘‘There isn’t strong, uniform support for paying the levy, and a number of industries and industry bodies have called for the levy to be scrapped,’’ Ms O’Connell told a Senate Estimates hearing.

Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport chair Barry O’Sullivan questioned why the government was proceeding despite everyone saying it was a ‘‘dog’s breakfast’’.

‘‘What are you going to do — consult your way through until you find some people who think it’s a good idea?’’

The levy comes on the back of a spate of recent biosecurity scares, which saw goods containing foot and mouth disease seized from passengers travelling to Australia.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the levy would proceed.

‘‘It makes sense that those who create risk should contribute proportionately to our biosecurity screening. Most stakeholders accept this,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

‘‘If the taxpayer is burdened with all the costs of biosecurity, then importers will never take their part of the responsibility of keeping Australia free from pests seriously.

‘‘We’ve rightly heard concerns of importers around various levy designs the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has presented during consultation on this levy.

‘‘Consequently I am establishing an industry steering committee so industry itself can help design the levy.’’

It is expected the levy will be reviewed within three years to ensure it is not over-recovering funds and to examine incorporating aircraft freight into the levy.