Aust horse importers face big cost rises

November 27, 2008

The costs of getting imported horses through quarantine in Australia are likely to increase "very significantly", according to a new report.

Australia Agriculture Minister Tony Burke yesterday released the first report by Professor Peter Shergold, who has been appointed to independently monitor the roll-out of the 38 recommendations contained in the report of retired judge Ian Callinan's inquiry into the equine influenza outbreak.

Professor Shergood reported that implementation to October had been of a high standard and undertaken with a necessary sense of timeliness.

However, in another part of his 10-page report, he warned of the likely increases in costs for those importing horses into Australia.

"Biosecurity is a highly resource-intensive business," Professor Shergold wrote.

"It is apparent that there are significant new requirements necessary to give full effect to the new horse importation procedures: additional staff (including guards); upgraded facilities and more equipment (everything from overalls to disinfectant).

"The interim daily fee of $A165 initially set will not be sufficient to meet the costs which must be borne by the importers of about 600 horses (of which only 10-15 percent are 'shuttle stallions' with the capacity to pay their mounting costs).

"I anticipate that, by February 2010, when the new cost recovery budget is to be decided, the financial burden to be borne by importers will have risen very significantly - and certainly they believe that to be the likely outcome.

"Instead of a sudden, sharp hike in fees, you may wish to consider a series of interim steps. I believe it is likely that, as the full costs of the required importation measures become more apparent, that the pressure from importers for the government to consider alternative vaccination processes will increase.

"It is important to prepare for this eventuality," he said.

The fee rises will impact on those bringing in horses from regions where equine influenza is endemic - notably Europe and North America.

It is unlikely to impact on New Zealand horses crossing the Tasman, given New Zealand's flu-free status.

Mr Burke welcomed Professor Shergold's first report.

"The government understands the devastating impact of equine influenza on everyone connected to the horse industry," Mr Burke said.

"We will continue to ensure that all of Commissioner Callinan's recommendations are implemented, to help make our quarantine and biosecurity system as rigorous as possible."

The federal government has already taken several measures. These include: