Government must get on and implement long-awaited reforms to impose a new levy on importers and secure Australia's biosecurity, according to the National Farmers' Federation.
The proposed Biosecurity Imports Levy would apply to incoming freight and generate about $100 million in additional annual revenue fund protection from foreign pests and diseases.
Originally slated for introduction at the start of the financial year, the government's schedule has gone out the window after a backlash from importers.
Transport and import groups have said that a new levy is not necessary, have rejected the need for additional costs, are concerned that the new tax could be siphoned off to other areas of the budget, and argue it would create flow-on costs to consumers.
Opponents to the levy include fertiliser importers, cruise liners, cement suppliers, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Freight Trade Alliance, the the Australian Logistics Council, and Ports Australia.
NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said Australia's biosecurity risks are rising as the country grows. The system's capacity to detect dangerous pests and diseases breaching our borders must grow in tandem with imports, he said.
"By 2032 the number of imported sea containers alone is set to reach 19.4 million, an annual increase of 5.3 per cent. This movement creates increased biosecurity risk, which can threaten agriculture and the natural environment," Mr Mahar said.
"We are concerned that these services are already stretched to the limit.
"A singular biosecurity incursion has the potential to bring one or more of our farm industries to its knees."
Mr Mahar said importers had a responsibility to cover the cost of increasing risks, and said all revenue from the levy must be spent on biosecurity work.
"The government has committed to raise an additional $108m a year, we need to ensure it comes on top of the existing biosecurity budget," he said.
"We think there should be a recognition that there is more risk there, and the importers should take an additional level of responsibility to cover the costs, that is only fair."
Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said government had failed to address critical risks to the farm sector.
"This crucial piece of policy has become a mess," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"Some of the Government has insisted on classifying it as a "general levy" which means the revenues do not have to pass to the Department of Agriculture and its biosecurity programs - revenues will be remitted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
"The farming sector and its $48 billion worth of exports, should not be taken for granted. Not only can farming not afford to be exposed to pests and diseases in an operational sense, but agriculture's success is based on a hard-earned reputation for clean and safe exports.
"ABARES has estimated the effects of a major foot-and-mouth outbreak on the Australian economy as $50 billion (present-value) loss to GDP over 10 years."
The levy was recommended by the 2017 Independent Review of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (the Craik Review).
The story NFF backing import levy to bolster biosecurity system first appeared on Farm Online.