Australia’s biosecurity system looks set to be strengthened by way of a long-term, predictable and sustainable funding model, but it will come at a cost for producers.
Announced by Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Tuesday, the biosecurity funding package in the 2023-24 federal budget will see more than $1 billion in new biosecurity investments over the next four years, with over $260 million in new funding per year, ongoing and locked, from 2027-28.
The government said those who create risk will bear the cost of maintaining the system, while those who receive significant benefits from it will also make ‘modest’ contributions.
These contributions will come in the form of a new biosecurity protection levy on all domestic agricultural, fisheries and forestry producers, commencing July 1, 2024, after a period of industry consultation.
The levy will collect an amount equivalent to 10 per cent of 2020-21 levy rates, or another comparable metric where such levies are not in place.
This means, grass-fed cattle producers will pay an extra 50 cents per head, cotton producers will pay an additional 22.5 cents per 227kg bale, and egg producers will pay another 3.25 cents per chick, to list just a few.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the sustainable biosecurity funding model marks ‘a new era in Australian agriculture’.
“For the very first time in our nation’s history, we will now have a sustainable biosecurity funding model to protect our agricultural industry, our natural environment and our way of life,” he said.
“Years of biosecurity operations relying on stop gap, temporary funding injections, usually in response to imminent threats, are over.
“The budget handed down by Treasurer Jim Chalmers last night locked in a significant, permanent increase to biosecurity funding into the future.
“This is a lasting, Labor legacy that will support our ag sector for years to come.”
Above: The split of livestock levies. Source: MLA
The raid on farmers’ hip pockets to help bankroll the system has drawn criticism from the opposition and the National Farmers’ Federation, given industry-led agricultural levies already fund many biosecurity activities and organisations.
Nationals leader David Littleproud said the new tax on farmers to pay for the biosecurity risk of international importers was senseless and would be passed onto consumers at a time when cost-of-living pressures were already high.
“It is unfathomable the Labor government would ask farmers to pay for the biosecurity costs of importers from other countries,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The Coalition proposed a cost recovery model that importers would pay commensurate to the risk provided, rather than farmers, and the model was ready for implementation before the end of last year.”
The government’s commitment to cement and increase baseline Commonwealth funding into the budget has been welcomed by the NFF, but president Fiona Simson said the move to have farmers foot the bill was ‘a bitter pill to swallow’.
“We’re already significant financial contributors. What’s more, we bear the cost of managing historical pest and disease incursions and face the enormous threats posed by pests and diseases on our doorstep,” she said.
“After years of consultation and discussion, we’d hoped to see a scheme such as a broad-based container levy that forced risk creators to underwrite the system.
“It’s extremely disappointing to have to continue waiting for a meaningful contribution from risk creators.”
Other cost recovery avenues will include importers being responsible for $390 million, or around 48 per cent, of total biosecurity costs by 2024-25.
From July 1, 2024, a new cost recovery charge on low value ($1000 or less) goods imported into Australia by air or sea will be introduced.
This charge will cover the cost of biosecurity clearance on imported goods that are not currently subject to cost recovery – up to now, taxpayers have been paying this cost.
The government will also increase the Passenger Movement Charge - established with the intent to support biosecurity costs associated with international travellers - from the current charge of $60 to $70 per person as of July 1, 2024. This will be the first increase since 2017.