THE government's sudden decision to back away from a long-awaited levy on incoming freight, which would have boosted the nation's biosecurity funding, is a blow to farmers, the National Farmers' Federation says.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment said it made the decision not to processed with the Onshore Biosecurity Levy, following "broad industry consultation and further consideration of the impacts on industry".
"This process highlighted that a levy could not be implemented without significant regulatory impacts on industry and proposed levy payers," the spokesperson said.
"This decision has also been made in consideration of the ongoing impacts of drought, bushfires and COVID-19 on the Australian economy and the rapidly changing global trade environment."
The levy was expected to generate about $100 million in additional annual revenue fund protection from foreign pests and diseases.
National Farmers' Federation CEO Tony Mahar said the farm sector strongly supported the levy as an important new source of funding for an overstretched system, and was frustrated by the announcement.
"Biosecurity is absolutely critical - not only for primary industries, but for the environment and the health of the community. This has certainly been brought home by the COVID-19 pandemic," Mr Maher said.
"We need a firm and clear commitment from government that they are serious about maintaining the biosecurity of this country.
"Biosecurity is absolutely fundamental to agriculture, and the way biosecurity levy proposal has been handled is of concern to Australia's farmers."
The levy was first proposed in a 2017 independent review, which found that the national biosecurity system was underfunded, and recommended the introduction of a levy on imports to generate revenue for important biosecurity functions that couldn't be cost recovered.
Mr Mahar said the biosecurity levy proposal had consumed a significant amount of time and effort from industry and governments over a number of years, and that today's decision had put that effort to waste.
The department said there would be no impact on the overall biosecurity budget.