Berries Australia Submission into the Agriculture (Biosecurity Protection) Levies Bill 2024 (Provisions) and related bills Inquiry

Date: 17th April 2024

Berries Australia strongly rejects the premise and content of the Agriculture (Biosecurity Protection) Levies Bill 2024 [Provisions] and related bills (the Bill) and welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the Senate on this matter.

The development of this Bill has been characterised by a complete disregard for standard consultation processes or procedural fairness for the impacted agricultural producers. The lack of detail around the cost implications for producers and the unwillingness of government to appropriately engage in relation to this matter is deeply concerning, particularly as it pertains to a new tax on agriculture.

The so-called biosecurity protection levy should be called out for what it is – a tax on farmers, with funds going into consolidated government revenue. It should also be called out for not being compliant with any of the basic principles underpinning a taxation system which include neutrality, efficiency, certainty and simplicity, effectiveness and fairness and flexibility[1].

We urge the Senators to apply the same level of scrutiny as they would a tax on any other part of the Australian economy and contend that an absence of detail relating to the application of the tax would not be considered acceptable. The current proposal to tax turnover rather than profit is ludicrous, particularly for commodities such as berries which have very high production costs despite their high value. Grower returns can often be quite low and grower profitability is declining in real terms as supply is beginning to overtake demand and input costs are soaring.

The concept of ‘shared responsibility’ is supposedly one of the key principles of modern biosecurity management and is enshrined in legislation. Berries Australia supports this principle as it reflects the true dynamics of the biosecurity continuum whereby responsibility rests on different shoulders depending on the stage in the invasion curve (see figure 1). We consider that the proposed Bill overturns the concept of shared responsibility and risks the integrity of the biosecurity system as a whole.

Please consider that of the 90 odd submissions to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, not a single one supported the application of this tax and the revised collection methodology proposed by the government does nothing to reduce our concerns. Please also note that the recent Productivity Commission review of levies and charges clearly considers this approach to be flawed.

Our preferred outcome is that the current Bill is rejected in its entirety.

We encourage the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry to engage in a comprehensive analysis of recent reviews of the biosecurity system then work with industry to develop a long-term sustainable funding model.

For further comment please contact Rachel Mackenzie

Berries Australia is a joint venture between the Australian Blueberry Growers Association, the Raspberry & Blackberry Association and Strawberries Australia Inc.