THE Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has proposed changes to the contentious biosecurity levy, a scheme announced in this year’s federal budget that was roundly criticised by industry.

DAWR expects the levy to bring in $325m over the coming three years.

The proposed changes to the yet-to-be-implemented levy include decreasing the levy on bulk cargo from $1 per tonne to $0.50 per tonne, but implementing a fee of $0.027 per volumetric tonne of vessel gross tonnage for every international vessel calling at Australian ports.

Initially, the stevedores were to be responsible for collecting the levy, but in this recent raft of changes, the responsibility has moved to vessel operators, owners and agents. DAWR has proposed that the levy be charged via the Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS).

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However, DAWR already charges a fee for biosecurity cost-recovery through its $920 ship-arrival charge (administered through MARS).

Last week DAWR hosted an “industry workshop” to discuss these changes to the proposed levy. One source told DCN “it all went to town”, with industry representatives making known their dissatisfaction with the way the levy is being managed.

The levy is on a tight timeline, with the department aiming to have the legislation before Parliament by February, with full implementation by 1 July 2019.

Shipping Australia CEO Rod Nairn told DCN the levy would cost Australians two or three times as much as the government would collect because of the method of collection.

“The crux of the issue that we’ll be charging families and our farmers more in the name of biosecurity to raise money into the general government bank account. There seems no logic in the way the levy is being applied and it is certainly not proportional to the biosecurity risk,” Mr Nairn said.

“Biosecurity is absolutely crucial for Australia and it should be appropriately budget-funded and not treated as a joke through port policy badly implemented.”

Australian Federation of International Forwarders CEO Brian Lovell said the move away from the stevedore-collection model was positive, but issues remained.

“AFIF voiced concerns at the workshop that the new levy model based on the gross tonnage of commercial vessels, plus a levy on the cargo on board, imposed on the vessel owner, operator or agent, will add complexity and uncertainty for industry,” he said.

“Shipping lines and slot charterers recovering biosecurity fees from importers will in effect be calculating a portion of the vessel gross tonnage fee to add to the $10.00-per-TEU fee.”

In a statement, AFIF pointed out the levy, transferred to importers by shipping lines, would be opaque and variable, depending on the size of the ship.

“There is also the potential for ‘administration’ costs to be added, thereby the DAWR government levy (tax without GST) applied by DAWR to shipping lines, becomes an uplifted fee with a potential GST implication when charged to industry,” the statement read.

“The new proposed collection model does not remove the potential for costs being added, as the Biosecurity Levy passes through the supply chain. AFIF opposes the new collection model and will be responding formally to DAWR. AFIF maintains the biosecurity levy is a government tax, fixed amount for the three years, without GST.”

Freight & Trade Alliance director and Australian Peak Shippers Association secretariat Travis Brooks-Garrett said the organisations remained deeply concerned about “what we judge to be an administratively complex and operationally clumsy method of collecting the new levy, and about the transparency of its application”.

“On a more positive note, FTA and APSA welcome the government’s commitment, through the DAWR, to apply some $313m of the $325m expected to be collected by the levy to much-needed improvements to frontline biosecurity protection and improved service levels,” Mr Brooks-Garrett said.

“The department’s mishandling this year of measures to deal with the incursion of the brown marmorated stink bug shows there’s plenty of room for improvement and we hope vital additional resources will be allocated, now the government is set on introducing this levy.”

DAWR has been contacted for comment.

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