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MISLEADING BIOSECURITY TAX ‘CONSULTATION’ CALLED OUT

Grain Producers Australia says continued references to the consultations held with farmers on the Federal Government’s proposed Biosecurity Tax are grossly misleading and need to be called out.


A Senate Inquiry report was handed down on Friday and delivered a brutal assessment of the levy/tax policy. The bills to impose the new cost on farmers are currently before the Federal Senate.


The report highlighted multiple concerns raised during the inquiry about the policy’s fundamental flaws and why the levy/tax remains unfair and inequitable and should therefore be scrapped.


GPA Chair, Barry Large, said a dissenting report by Coalition Senators correctly recommended the bills should not be passed, ahead of a July 1 deadline to implement the deeply unpopular levy-tax.


“This report shows clearly the genuine evidence and reasons why so many farmers are standing up to fight against this tax. We urge the Senate to do what’s right and vote against these bills,” he said.

GPA Chief Executive, Colin Bettles, said the report details consultations that were only held retrospectively, after the biosecurity tax was announced unexpectedly, in last year’s federal budget.


“The department further indicated that it had attended 82 meetings with industry groups and committees between May 2023 and February 2024. It also told the committee that 'there were 92 written submissions to the consultation process, some of which we have on our website’.”


But he said the pertinent fact was, the proposed levy/tax was never revealed to producers, openly and transparently, during the initial ‘consultation’ process on a ‘sustainable’ biosecurity funding that Agriculture Minister, Murray Watt, commenced in November 2022.


“In fact, the discussion paper released by the Minister’s Department said:


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“All Australians including producers, industry and individuals benefit from the biosecurity system. The biosecurity system is also important to protect our unique environment and biodiversity and it also protects our health and social amenity.”


“But six months after this ‘consultation’ process a new biosecurity tax was announced and suddenly Australian farmers are being told, not asked, to replace taxpayers and stump up another $50 million in a new levy/tax that’s actually going into consolidated revenue,” he said.


“The case to establish why all Australian farmers should pay more in taxes, to fund the Agriculture Department’s budget, was never established and still hasn’t been. Meanwhile, other direct beneficiaries of existing producer levies such as large corporate entities across agribusiness supply chains, from paddock to plates, are not paying anything, to improve shared responsibility.”


Mr Bettles said this lack of proper consultation and failure to provide a credible and inclusive policy design process, with genuine and meaningful conversations, is the core reason why this policy is now fundamentally flawed and why farmers are so vehemently opposed to the levy/tax.


“Every move by the government to continue pushing this flawed policy onto farmers is only exacerbating the dysfunction and mistrust in this whole process,” he said.


“Independent expert analysis has also highlighted obvious failures – but they’re still marching on.”


The Federal Government’s response to the retrospective consultations in February this year was to announce a Sustainable Biosecurity Funding Advisory Panel. The tax rate also changed from a flat 10 per cent tax on all Australian agricultural producers, to one that’s now based on a GVP formulae.


Despite these changes, all producer groups remain staunchly opposed to the BPL knowing it only extends the inequities. Senior farm representatives have also boycotted the Panel due to the government’s stubborn refusal to drop the levy/tax and escalate risks of unintended consequences.


Mr Large said the Biosecurity Tax is the 50 million tonne elephant in the room that’s undermining trust and confidence in any future engagement or discussions on ‘sustainable’ biosecurity funding, to actually delivered shared benefits.


“This $50 million to fund the Agriculture Department is straight out of the pockets of farmers who are price takers and can’t pass costs on, after they’ve taken all of the production risks,” he said.


“We’re also a low value commodity that delivers an economic multiplier effect which includes boosting taxation generation for governments.


“Even these basic principles of fairness and economic reality have been totally ignored at every step.


“We’re urging Senators to recognise these salient facts and not to be distracted by suggestions farmers are only paying a few cents here and there, therefore implying we’re cheapskates for not wanting to pay another tax that in reality means farmers are now paying more than our fair share.”


Mr Large said he was deeply concerned by the main Senate inquiry report’s statement by the government Chair – which recommended the bills be passed – saying “While primary producers are currently a beneficiary, they don't contribute directly to biosecurity efforts to manage the risks”.


He said this sort of misleading commentary was especially infuriating when producers know they’re already contributing hundreds of millions of dollars in multiple levies – including emergency responses such as Varroa – and make other direct costs to manage biosecurity on our own farms.


“The simple truth is obvious – the lack of buy-in from producers due to the non-disclosure of the levy in the initial design process is the reason why this policy is deeply flawed and so strongly opposed,” he said.


“Producers are opposed based on basic policy and economic principles, not the dollars or cents.

“The principles don’t add up and nor do the actual numbers.


“Farmers have clearly said they’re already paying their fair share which means the BPL is now unfair and inequitable. These are the facts which are still being ignored, including in stage managed ‘consultations’ that were only held retrospectively.”


Mr Large said to continue forging ahead with imposing the Biosecurity Tax on all Australian farmers will only do further damage to the shared responsibility that’s critically needed, to actually deliver better biosecurity protections and empower shared responsibility.


“Changing the tax rate that’s being charged on all Australian farmers hasn’t changed anyone’s views – it has only strengthened opposition and exposed even more fundamental flaws in the policy, such as the complexity and inefficiency of collections,” he said.


“Perhaps if the government opened up a conversation about exemptions for commodities such as grains – instead of continued insistence on delivering a one size fits all policy by imposing this tax on all farmers – we may actually start seeing some progress, towards fairness and equity principles.


“However, instead of cooperation and collaboration on biosecurity, the government has delivered deep divisions, dysfunction, distrust and disappointment.”


Mr Large said the report also showed that taking another $50 million off agricultural producers in a non-hypothecated levy/tax to fund the Agriculture Department also went against agreed principles of the National Biosecurity Strategy.


He said it was also disappointing, but not surprising, that critical advice was also not provided, to inform the report's findings and to add transparency – including on the continued failure to deliver a container levy so risk-creators can make a more equal contribution to biosecurity funding.


It was also disappointing that the Minister provided a response to the concerns raised by the Scrutiny Committee about the bills, but this was not made publicly available, for the report.


ENDS

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