IMPORTERS and online shoppers should be charged more for bringing goods into the country to cover their share of the nation's biosecurity costs, a new independent report has found.
Labor promised to create a long-term sustainable funding model for the nation's biosecurity system, which is at risk of crumbling before a growing number of threats, and expectations are growing for the party to deliver its election commitment in next week's budget.
The Front Economics report, commissioned by the Invasive Species Council, found the government had multiple viable options, but should initially seek funding from those who create biosecurity risks.
It recommended a levy on all containers that arrive by air or sea, which "are a significant source" of risk, to be among the fairest and most efficient measures.
It also advocated for lowering the threshold for biosecurity fees for smaller purchases, due to the risk of online shopping. At the moment, non-commercial goods with a value of less than $1000 do not incur any additional costs.
National Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said farmers were happy to pay their share for biosecurity and argued they already were, pointing to the producer levies that fund Plant Health Australia and Animal Health Australia.
"It's only fair that those who create the risk also pay their share," Mr Mahar said.
"Farmers are not the only beneficiary of better biosecurity funding... it's about resourcing the system so that imports are screened in a timely way, so that new car or TV isn't waiting on the dock for weeks on end."
The other options flagged by the report increased cost-recovery from other government agencies that create biosecurity risks, such as the Department of Defence, and compulsory biosecurity insurance (similar to third-party vehicle insurance) on all inbound goods or vessels.
It also suggested increasing fees for passengers arriving in Australia by plane, but noted there would likely be strong opposition from the tourism industry.
The report also noted previous attempts to introduce a $5 levy on goods worth less than $1000 were labelled a "parcel tax" and were abandoned.
Invasive Species Council chief executive Andrew Cox said Labor would most likely need a combination of methods to fulfil its election commitment, but its primary focus should be on the risk creators.
"We shouldn't allow those importers, who are the primary risk creators, to get a free ride, while allowing agriculture and taxpayers to foot the bill," Mr Cox said.
"Importers of goods are not paying for the massive damage they cause through inadvertently bringing harmful pests, weeds and diseases into Australia."
The report found yearly budget handouts would not adequately support the system, particularly when biosecurity was competing for the same pool of funding as health and education.
"We can't continue to turn biosecurity funding into a yearly budget fight," Mr Cox said.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has stopped short of promising a funding model will be announced in the upcoming budget, but suggested the government was considering a $5-levy on all Full Import Decorations, which applies to all cargo worth more than $1000.
Mr Mahar said if a sustainable funding arrangement finally became a reality in next week's budget, the agriculture community would "be overjoyed".
"It's been a long road to get to this point," Mr Mahar said.