February 28, 2008

The Australian federal government may be buying a fight over plans to recover the estimated $A100 million bill for the equine flu eradication campaign from horse owners.

The flu outbreak, which began late in August, has cost many Australian horse owners thousands of dollars in lost income.

The Australian Horse Industry Council (AHIC), which met yesterday, said it unanimously opposed the horse industry contributing to the cost of the EI emergency response.

The AHIC argued that the outcome of the inquiry into the cause of the EI outbreak, headed by recently retired High Court judge Ian Callinan, should provide the basis of any decisions on EI.

While the Callinan inquiry has yet to deliver its findings, many Australian horse owners believe lapses in quarantine standards played a part in the escape of the disease into the wider horse population.

Quarantine services are the responsibility of the federal government in Australia.

Racing interests have also expressed concerns over the cost-recovery proposal.

The AHIC said its economic impact survey showed that the whole horse industry had been hit by the epidemic.

"It is feared that many small organisations, businesses and individuals will suffer if required to pay this levy and it would cause many breed societies to close their doors," the council said in a statement released after the meeting.

"After years of industry consultation, the AHIC supports the concept of the imposition of an industry levy to help fund emergency disease responses. However, while it is appropriate in principle to have industry pay for a response to an exotic disease, this process must be equitable and fair in its implementation."

There are a number of draft levy Bills currently before the Federal Parliament. The AHIC is currently consulting with its members and the broader horse community to determine their responses to the details contained in these bills.

The AHIC is a national peak body representing the Australian horse industry. It is a not-for-profit organisation designed to represent the interests of horses and horse owners across all sectors.