AGRICULTURE minister David Littleproud has announced the establishment of an industry steering committee to help design the biosecurity levy.

The levy was announced last year with the stated intention of providing money to invest in more efficient biosecurity measures.

However it attracted criticism from shippers and the shipping industry, with Shipping Australia chief executive Rod Nairn quoted as saying it looked like “Australia’s first salvo in the global tariff war”.

Mr Littleproud said it was important for importers to take seriously their responsibility.

“If a foreign pest or disease made it into Australia it could ruin agriculture. For instance, if foot and mouth disease was imported into Australia, it would result in at least $50bn in livestock industry losses,” he said.

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Mr Littlerproud said it made sense that those who created risk should contribute proportionately to biosecurity screening.

“If the taxpayer is burdened with all the costs of biosecurity, then importers will never take their part of the responsibility of keeping Australia free from pests seriously,” he said.

“Invading pests and diseases can come in on the hulls of ships as well as the decks and storage compartments, as well as in the cargo itself.”

Mr Littleproud said they had heard the concerns of importers around several levy designs the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources had presented.

“Consequently I am establishing an industry steering committee so industry itself can help design the levy,” he said.

“The levy will help keep our clean green advantage and will be done in a calm and methodical manner. There is too much at risk to our nation if we don’t continue to protect our borders.”

Freight and Trade Alliance director Paul Zalai welcomed the announcement but also questioned aspects of the levy concept.

He said it was interesting “that those who create risk should contribute proportionately to the cost of our biosecurity screening”.

“In this context, is a blanket tax across sea containers, bulk and break-bulk cargo appropriate?” Mr Zalai said.

“What about those entities that go the extra yard to mitigate biosecurity risks under approved arrangements or similar trusted arrangements.

“Surely these entities should see a differential levy as against the remainder who do little address biosecurity risk and place the burden back on the department.”

Mr Zalai said it was, however, “great news” the minister had heard industry’s concerns about the proposed levy.

“We look forward to supporting the steering committee process which will hopefully generate a fair, effective, transparent and sustainable cost recovery arrangement,” he said.

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