Aust horse levy proposal referred to committee

September 6, 2008

Australia's Senate has referred legislation which would allow the government to levy horse owners to pay for future disease incursions to a committee.

The Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and two related bills will go before the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee.

The committe has been asked to report back by October 3.

The bills passed in the lower hourse earlier this week, amid opposition suggestions the proposed law had the potential to place an unfair burden on hobby horse owners.

The Australia Horse Industry Council (AHIC) said after the lower house debate that any more to refer the legislation to a Senate committee would provide a further opportunity for debate on the issue. The council said it hoped any senate review process would be completed quickly.

Yesterday, the AHIC reaffirmed its support for an "equitable and broad-based industry levy". Such a levy will ensure government assistance for the horse industry in the event of a future emergency disease outbreak.

"Through EADRA (the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement), the industry is guaranteed the support and financial assistance of government in sharing the burden of fighting future emergency disease outbreaks," he said.

"Successful eradication of emergency diseases also eliminates ongoing disease management costs, providing further incentive for the industry to become a party to EADRA.

"The ongoing viability of the horse industry could be compromised by a financially devastating disease outbreak. Involvement in EADRA is like taking out an insurance policy for the industry."

Dr Smyth noted that a necessary step for participating in EADRA was to arrive at a suitable levy mechanism, which will enable the horse industry to contribute to part of the costs of future disease responses.

The levy is to be set at zero, which means that no levy will be payable until after an emergency disease response is over. The agreement specifies that industry will be consulted up front about the amount of any levy.

Referring to the Senate committee review, Dr Smyth said: "AHIC is committed to contributing to this review process. It is an important step in ensuring that the Horse Disease Response Levy Bills provide for the most equitable and appropriate levy for the horse industry.

"Our longstanding view has been that the levy must be broad based and that the burden should be distributed across the horse industry, because everybody benefits from disease eradication.

"Our objective is to ensure that the final levy mechanism provides for widespread industry participation. The greater the number of participants in the levy scheme, the lower the cost to each individual horse owner.

"The Levy Bills currently provide for application of the levy to include 'registered' horses. We have communicated our concerns to Minister Burke that this approach might significantly restrict the potential number of levy participants.

"AHIC will be recommending to the Senate Committee that it reviews this particular aspect of the Levy Bills, with a view to clarifying these issues."