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Scheme tabled for taxation without representation - GPA

By Barry Large, Chair of Grain Producers Australia

Grain Producers Australia's (GPA) submission to the 'consultation' process on the Federal government's Biosecurity Protection Levy has unambiguously opposed graingrowers being forced into paying this added 10 per cent tax.

GPA's grower members throughout Australia are extremely concerned about inherent flaws in this policy proposal.

Not least of all because the funding to be raised via the new levy/tax won't actually do what the Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt claims it will do.

GPA's submission raises concerns about this money being taken off growers and redirected into consolidated revenue for the Federal government.

This approach severely contradicts the core principles of the current levy-collection system, where grower funding is directed towards the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and Plant Health Australia (PHA) which act according to long-standing shared governance principles.

These agencies collaborate and engage with growers, to work in partnership with government and other stakeholders, to design and deliver targeted investment strategies and programs, with oversight and accountability mechanisms provided for levy-paying growers.

GPA represents all levy-paying growers to GRDC, PHA and the National Residue Survey (NRS), so this new levy will also be a form of taxation without representation.

The Biosecurity Protection Levy consultation paper openly admits this alarming fact.

"The funds collected through the Biosecurity Protection Levy will go to the consolidated revenue fund and will not be disbursed to research and development corporations, Animal Health Australia, Plant Health Australia or the National Residue Survey," the paper said.

"While Biosecurity Protection Levy funds will not be directly appropriated to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the additional contributions into consolidated revenue will support the government's capacity to provide the increased and ongoing appropriation funding for biosecurity committed to in the budget."

The paper also said this new 10pc levy had "separate policy intent and legislative arrangements to the existing agricultural levies and charges (levies) legislation" and "will not be subject to producer voting arrangements in relation to its establishment or change".

All growers should be extremely alarmed and angered by this undemocratic approach which eliminates grower voices - not just grain producers.

Pic: GPA Chair and WA grain producer, Barry Large.

GPA's submission clearly demonstrates Australian grain producers already pay our fair share in levies, with genuine representation.

Based on the value estimated for last year's grain crop at $28 billion - the total levies potentially collected (at the current rate of 1.02pc of total grain sale value) for GRDC, PHA and NRS purposes, would be $285.6 million.

At the new rate of 1.122pc (1.02 + 0.102), the total levies collected will be $314.16m.

This is an added $28.56m from the 10pc levy, to be contributed by grain producers - but this money will be placed into consolidated government revenue, with no direct grower voice.

This increase of $28.56m represents more than 60pc of the funding to be raised by the 10pc, across all agricultural sectors (about $50m per year).

The Biosecurity Activity Levy paid by Australian grain producers also funds the Grains Farm Biosecurity Program and website ($970,000 average per year over last five years) and PHA membership ($418,000 average per year over past five years).

The Biosecurity Emergency Response Levy is used to fund the costs of emergency responses in relation to plant pests and diseases and has an estimated balance of about $7m.

In addition, growers also pay levies to fund State government based biosecurity, such as the Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry Funding Scheme in WA.

WA growers are levied at the rate of 25 cents per tonne of grain and seed, and 12.5c/t of hay.

Recent analysis by ABARES also shows 85pc of land managers spent on average around $21,950 on pest and weed species management in 2022.

GRDC's overall biosecurity investment over the past six years totals about $220m - including $42.3m in 2022/23.

Total GRDC RD&E investment will increase about 30pc over the next year, from $180m to $230m, with a clear strategic focus on biosecurity programs, in the new five-year RD&E Plan.

GPA's submission also shows grain producers are being forced to pay another 10pc levy/tax, while those creating the actual risks of these imported pests and diseases landing in Australia, such as Khapra beetle, are still not paying their fair share.

GPA believes the imported container levy should be introduced first, before growers pay another levy, to ensure risk creators are contributing equally to shared responsibility and accountability on biosecurity.

Otherwise, this new policy proposal lets risk creators off the hook again.

While highly sceptical, GPA's submission is also realistic and pragmatic.

It says if the government is going to place this added 10pc levy/tax on growers, it needs to deliver optimal value to actually increase biosecurity protections for the Australian grains industry.

GPA's submission urges the government to adopt certain principles such as transparency on how levy-funding is spent to deliver stronger protections for grain producers and industry - and outline a clear pathway to implement the container levy, as proposed in the 2017 Craik Review.

With the new 10pc levy/tax due to be implemented by July 1, 2024, growers still have time to raise their objections - and support GPA in representing your voice - on this critical issue and more.

This article was first published in the Farm Weekly, October 21 2023. HERE



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