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Australia blow $103 million black hole in biosecurity

The Nationals and Liberals tonight voted to strip $103 million from the nation’s biosecurity budget over the next two years, seriously jeopardising our defences against pests and diseases.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke said the Nationals and Liberals had betrayed Australia’s farmers by blocking a new set of fees and charges for export certification in the Senate.

The move will also block $60 million in planned reforms to improve efficiency, cut red tape, modernise IT systems and improve export market access.

It will cost the nation’s biosecurity budget $103 million, but farmers could pay a bigger price in the event of an exotic disease outbreak.

“Australia’s biosecurity defences protect us from exotic pests and diseases which can have a devastating impact on business owners,” Mr Burke said.

“The Nationals and Liberals were in government when equine influenza spread throughout our horse industries, costing horse owners, trainers, jockeys, caterers and many more businesses.

“That single outbreak cost industry an estimated $1 billion and many businesses are still only just recovering financially.

“Now this offensive move by the Nationals and Liberals will force Australia’s biosecurity budget to shrink to levels which are lower than ever.

“Only months ago, John Cobb stated in a media release that to cut money from biosecurity is ‘criminal’.

“Tonight the Nationals and Liberals have done exactly that to the tune of $103 million.

“In the same week that the Leader of the Opposition has wanted to claim the Coalition is capable of economic reform, they have destroyed these reforms for our exporters.

“Instead of implementing industry plans for reform, exporters are lumbered with continued inefficiencies which stifle our global competitiveness.

“The reason for wanting to drive efficiencies for our exporters is simple: it means jobs for regional Australia.

“The previous government had planned for the subsidy to end.

“Tonight’s vote is proof that the Coalition has lost all credibility on economic reform.”

The reform program had the support of the six export sectors: red meat, grain, horticulture, live exports, fish and dairy.

Examples of the reforms which were being sought by industry include:

- new regulatory arrangements which would allow audits to be carried out remotely, by accessing a company’s data electronically. Under the current system, an auditor could be required to drive to the company site to access company systems. The new remote system would save time and money;
- increasing the use of electronic processing, rather than inefficient paperwork. Under the reforms, more than 89% of the 330,000 clearance certificates to be issued next financial year would be done electronically;
- Grains could be cleared for export much earlier in the process. Previously they were cleared at the last minute, which meant exporters had to pay demurrage costs if the loading of a vessel was delayed due to clearance issues.

by S. C.
17 september 2009, World News > Oceania