Demise of import levy threatens Australia’s biosecurity funding

Today the federal government officially dumped its $120 million a year biosecurity import levy, leaving Australia without a plan to boost funding in response to growing biosecurity risks.

“This is a big setback for plans to put Australia’s biosecurity funding on a sustainable footing,” Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said.

“The 2018 federal budget initiative proposed to levy about $10 per incoming 20-foot shipping container and $1 a tonne for imported non-containerised shipping cargo.

“The government has shut down its inter-departmental working group and the Onshore Biosecurity Levy Industry Working Group tasked to design the new levy in December 2019.

“The Coalition government must take responsibility for its failed implementation. The government initially baulked in response to pressure from a few noisy importers then asked the importers to redesign the import levy.

“This was like asking turkeys to vote on Christmas.

“While we welcome the federal government’s commitment that the lost revenue from the import levy will not impact biosecurity spending immediately, there will are no guarantees for the future.”

The levy was a key recommendation of the 2017 independent biosecurity review led by Dr Wendy Craik and supported by all federal, state and territory governments.

“The import levy used the ‘polluters pay’ principle. Importers were asked to pay for their biosecurity risk,” said Mr Cox.

“Australia’s national biosecurity system costs the federal government about $300 million a year while states and local governments spend much more again combating pests and weeds that have slipped through the border.

“The Craik review warned of ‘eroding biosecurity budgets’ and building pressures on the biosecurity system. By 2030, Australia’s shipping container imports and overseas passenger arrivals are predicted to double from the mid 2010s.

“The biosecurity import levy was designed to grow as imports grew.

“Without the levy biosecurity, funding will be subject to budgetary pressures, now severe in this global recession.

“At risk is Australia’s agricultural sector, its unique natural environment, our health and our way of life,” Mr Cox said.


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