SA horse owners face third biosecurity fee

October 10, 2010

Horse owners in South Australia are facing an additional "biosecurity fee" which could cost each farm owner $A165 or more.

This new "Biosecurity Fee" is in addition to the new national Emergency Cost Sharing Agreement (EADRA) levy, and the mandatory Property Identification Code (PIC) system, which was also to be introduced from January 2011.

The Animal Health section of the Department for Primary Industries & Resources (PIRSA) is preparing for the required legislative changes announced in the recent South Australian Government State Budget which would enable the "Biosecurity Fee" to be collected on each property with livestock and horses.

The fee, with early estimations being advised of $165 or more, is planned to be collected from January 2011.

Money from the fee, proposed to be collected annually, is to be used to cover the costs of providing the existing core Animal Health services, such as surveillance.

Equestrian groups in the state are objecting to the introduction of the new fee, citing a lack of public consultation and opportunities for expert scrutiny and validation processes.

"The news of this fee has come as quite a shock," said Wendy Hunt, Chair of Equestrian SA.

"Whilst our organisation supports good biosecurity controls we believe that 'creating fees' will not encourage property owners to do the right thing but instead avoid and deny that stock exist. Unfortunately these fees do not seem to have anything to do with biosecurity but seems to be just revenue raising for the Government," she said.

Hunt also said the imposition of the fee raised "moral, social and legal questions", given that horse owners would also soon face two other levies, including the PIC scheme. In this scheme, individual horses are not identified, and neither are existing brands or microchips linked to the PIC.

She said the PIC system was supported across animal industry groups, including horses, and seen as integral to supporting effective biosecurity and emergency responses. Many properties housing more than 1100 horses have already voluntarily registered on the system over the last five years, which is currently free.

Helen Whittle, Chair of Horse SA, said the new South Australian Government 'Biosecurity Fee' should not be confused with the new PIC fee and the EADRA levy.

"PIC and the new Biosecurity Fee are unrelated to the recent push to introduce voluntary vaccination for Equine Influenza; quite confusing for horse property owners to say the least," she said.

EADRA is an agreement between the Federal and State Governments, other livestock groups and the horse industry in relation to how an emergency disease occurrence will be managed and a related cost-recovery mechanism. The horse industry has not yet signed EADRA but negotiations are in the closing stages. The current proposal on the table is a levy mechanism to be applied to wormers and manufactured horse feed.

"Signing of EADRA is widely supported and has appropriate levels of industry and public consultation. PIC and EADRA have had long lead-in periods and each has evidence of industry awareness, consultation and negotiation. The 'Biosecurity Fee' does not.

Greg Bailey, President of Pony Club South Australia, is working collaboratively with community horse groups and industry representatives, including Horse SA and Equestrian SA, to seek a halt to legislative processes that will see the introduction of the proposed new fee.

"Further work needs to be undertaken to see if it is legal, that all other budget options have been exhausted and to give time for horse owners to be suitably informed," Bailey said.

"Moral and social impact questions need also to be addressed, as does the question of non-commercial lifestyle properties, which may include pleasure ponies, who have no ability to recoup or claim back fees on tax or business operations."

Horse SA pointed out that "required changes to the Livestock Act will apparently go to Parliament without public consultation in the coming months. There are no known planned independent socio-economic impact studies, cost-benefit analysis or other transparent 'checks and balances' to be completed before the proposed January 2011 introduction.

"Effective biosecurity can only be implemented when all livestock and horse owners are engaged, not driven to hide numbers or species of animals in an attempt to avoid what is to date a combined fee of at least $240," Whittle said.