Farmgroups oppose more levies

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Jenne BrammerCountryman
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WA farm lobby groups have joined forces to reject further proposed levies that would fund six new Regional Biosecurity Groups (RBGs) being established in the agricultural region.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association, WA Farmers and WA Grains Group, although not opposed to the idea of RBGs, have expressed concerns about the requirement to fund these.

RBGs currently exist in the Rangelands, but will be new in the agricultural region. All landholders in the catchment would be required to pay the levies, which would be matched dollar for dollar by the State Government.

WA Grains Group chairman Doug Clarke said from the start of the 2016-2017 financial year, farmers would receive an invoice from the Department of Finance to fund their new RBG. However there had been a lack of consultation with growers.

“From our discussions with farmer, few are aware of the changes, and even fewer are aware of what RBG they would are part of,” Mr Clarke said.

Mr Clarke said he recognised the importance of RBGs, but said they could be funded from existing Biosecurity Agricultural Management levies.

“For instance sheep producers currently pay 12c per head towards controlling footrot as a BAM, but it’s only southern areas that are vulnerable to this issue,” he said.

Mr Clarke said instead of creating a new levy, the current 12c per head levy could be used to fund the RBGs, matched dollar for dollar by the Government. He said it could be necessary to raise this in order to meet costs, but this was preferable to introducing a new, broader levy.

“Livestock producers are already paying three sets of levies; they are paying this BAM levy, the Australian Wool Innovation levy and the Meat & Livestock Association levy,” he said. .

“I don’t dispute the need for regional biosecurity groups but my concern, on behalf the grain industry, is the cross subsidisation. That is because all landholders (of more than 20ha) in a certain area would be required to contribute,” he said.

“The problem I have is that the grains industry looks after the grains industry. Grain growers don’t charge the livestock industry 30 cents a tonne of grain for managing skeleton weed (as per the BAM levy for Grains, Seeds and Hay).

“But what these new BSG (and the associated levy does is encompasses the grains industry and anyone else within the catchment area for issues such as wild pigs in the south or wild dogs in the eastern Wheatbelt, which are essentially livestock issues”.

Mr Clarke said a further issue had emerged from the recent Senate inquiry into agricultural levies. It was recommended a data base be created to enable levy payers to have a vote. This is not the case with the new RBG levy.

WA Farmers Federation Grains section president Duncan Young called on the Government to use the changes in DAFWA and the reviews of the industry funding schemes and DAFWA to address industry concerns about funding allocations and rates.

“Farmers are paying the bill so it isn’t a stretch for them to be asked to be involved in the discussions,” he said.

PGA grains chairman Gary McGill said he was concerned about the ability for the minister for agriculture to control the fund spending.

“Funds raised from a levy for a specific purpose should be preserved for that purpose,” he said.

Meanwhile, there is a proposed change to the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007, which would see a maximum declared pest rate imposed to control priority pests. In order to impose a flat rate, a maximum rate must be established.

DAFWA recently called for submissions in relation to the proposed maximum flat rate. Mr Clarke said a maximum flat rate of $3781 per rate notice per year had been mentioned, but no further correspondence has been received on the matter.

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