Biosecurity should be every Government’s agriculture policy priority. It guarantees our food security, food safety and protects our international brand.
The Craik review into Australia’s biosecurity system said it was at risk of failing without additional resources. A new import levy was recommended to close the gap between risk and resourcing, but that was July 2017 and we are still waiting.
After a long delay, the Government said it would introduce the levy by July 1, 2019. It missed the deadline. Then it said it would be operating on September 1. Today it has again missed that deadline. It still doesn’t have a levy model industry can support, and there is still no draft Bill.
“It’s September 1 today, and Australia still doesn’t have a new Biosecurity Imports Levy in place,” Mr Fitzgibbon said. “The Government doesn’t even have a Draft Bill for Parliamentary consideration yet the Levy’s revenues were booked in the 2019-20 Budget.
“The Morrison Government has broken a promise that could have grave consequences for consumers, food manufacturers and farmers. The need for a forward-looking biosecurity system is well-documented and has the support of the agriculture sector, the Opposition and the Australian public. The broken promises on biosecurity make us wonder, what has this Government been doing for six years?”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the Biosecurity Imports Levy was supposed to be a “cost-recovery” exercise imposed on import-related industries in a “shared responsibility” model. Instead, the Government has tried to create a revenue-grabber”.
“The Government tried to spread the Levy too wide and on to low-risk importers such as the petroleum and cement industries. It hasn’t explained why but it has upset many industry leaders in doing so.
“It has also proposed to impose the levy on the basis of cargo weight. Why should the lowest-risk importers pay the largest Biosecurity Levies? It undermines a major point of the expert Craik Review, which said the new system should be evidence-based and targeted at risk.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said relying on a biosecurity levy as a revenue measure means our trading partners could interpret the Levy as a tariff, as the Japanese ambassador had already alleged to Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham.
Mr Fitzgibbon noted that following an understandable industry revolt against its original levy model, the Government commissioned an Industry Steering Committee to advise on a better model. But while the Steering Committee delivered its report to the Minister in May of this year, the Minister has still not responded to its recommendations.
“Australians expect effective and swift biosecurity decisions from Government – our food security, health and natural environment depend on it. But this Government is asleep at the wheel”, Mr Fitzgibbon said.