March 6, 2008

Australia's Horse Industry Council is encouraging horse owners to submit comments on an industry levy to help fund emergency disease responses.

The Horse Disease Levy Bill follows a standstill of months in the horse industry because of an outbreak of equine influenza.

The Horse Industry Council said it supported the concept of the levy, and that the industry share of the response to an exotic disease must be equitable and fair.

There are three draft levy Bills currently before the Federal Parliament, and the AHIC is consulting with members and the broader horse community to determine their responses to the details in these Bills.

The AHIC said that government assistance to the livestock industries is essential to assist in the emergency response to an exotic disease incursion. "Agreements between government and industry about exotic disease responses go back to the mid 1950s. In those early days there was no provision for assistance for horse diseases."

The process evolved to include more livestock diseases, and then to include horse diseases. It culminated in the late 1990s in the development of the Exotic Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA). The current list of exotic diseases is 63, with more than 20 of those being diseases that can infect horses.

As part of EADRA, industry agrees to share costs of an exotic disease incursion with government. The industry share of costs is met by a levy on a product of the relevant industry. In the food and fibre industries, those products are readily identified - for example milk, meat and wool. There is no readily definable product of the horse industry other than horses. This meant that the horse industry could not be incorporated into the current Levy Collection mechanisms that apply to the other livestock industries.

AHIC has been negotiating with government for more than 10 years about inclusion in EADRA. The hold-up has been finding a way to allow the horse industry to participate via an acceptable levy mechanism. There have been many meetings with the horse industry over the past 10 years, and several suggestions about what might be a suitable levy mechanism.

The conclusion to these discussions was a levy on horses at the time of registration, implemented after the emergency disease response was declared over.

Legislation for the horse specific levy mechanism has been in development since 2006. There was a further hold up last year with the Federal election that put the then government into caretaker mode. Introduction of the current Horse Disease Levy and Collection Bills is the culmination of this more than 10 year process.

Passage of these Bills is essential to assure the horse industry of government assistance in the event of an exotic disease incursion. This provides access to government expertise, enactment of relevant legislation for emergency responses, mobilisation of government resources, and assurance that accounts can be paid by the Commonwealth Government during the emergency response. All this assures industry of prompt assistance through a response to an emergency disease incursion. Without EADRA industry is left on its own to cope - which is an impossible situation to confront for any of the livestock industries.