Biosecurity levy bungle

NFF backs import levy to bolster biosecurity system

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The National Farmers' Federation say government must get on with implementing a new levy for importers and secure Australia's biosecurity.

The National Farmers' Federation say government must get on with implementing a new levy for importers and secure Australia's biosecurity.

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Reform remains stalled while government grapples with backlash to proposed legislation.

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Federal government's plans to impose a new biosecurity levy on importers has left a $100 million shortfall in the budget for protecting Australia from exotic pests and diseases.

The proposed Biosecurity Imports Levy, which would apply to incoming freight and generate about $300 million over three years, was originally intended to apply from July 1.

But government's schedule went out the window after industry groups aired a raft of concerns as the original start date approached.

The July 1 kick off was delayed to September 1 and now it appears that won't happen either, as there's no legislation ready to go before parliament.

Transport and import groups were taken by surprise when the plans for the levy were revealed in the 2018 Budget.

They said the levy design had been rushed, could create unintended consequences such as new costs to consumers, would create costs - even on some materials which did not present biosecurity risks, lacked detail on collection methods, and risked a government cash-grab as there was no guarantee the tax would be spent on additional biosecurity controls.

"This crucial piece of policy has become a mess," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

"The government has insisted on classifying it as a general levy which means the revenues do not have to pass to the Department of Agriculture and its biosecurity programs - revenues will be remitted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said Australia's biosecurity risks are rising as the country grows. The system's capacity to detect dangerous pests and diseases breaching our borders must grow in tandem with imports.

"We are concerned that these services are already stretched to the limit. We think there should be a recognition that there is more risk there, and the importers should take an additional level of responsibility to cover the costs, that is only fair."

"A singular biosecurity incursion has the potential to bring one or more of our farm industries to its knees."

In April then Agriculture Minister David Littleproud formed a steering committee to work through the issues and its response is expected to be published soon.

Cement Industry Federation chief executive Margie Thomson, who worked on the steering committee, said industry acknowledged that a sustainable biosecurity system was essential, but said it must be "transparent, fair and equitable".

Ms Thomson said the steering committee's report received unanimous support members.

"It's really import that government considers the steering committee seriously and it's likely it could be implemented without any dissent."

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