New levy charges hit more than hip nerve

wagrainsgroup1 —  April 18, 2016


18 Apr, 2016 02:00 AM

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) and WAFarmers respective grains committees have partnered with WA Grains Group chairman Doug Clark to express concern over the State Government’s new system for charging growers to fund biosecurity management groups.

CHANGES to the collection of funding for biosecurity groups in WA have caused grain grower advocacy groups to question the need for more levies in the agricultural sector.

Growers in the eastern Wheatbelt will be the first to fund one of the new groups through a levy charged by property size on their shire rates notice. 

The Eastern Wheatbelt Biosecurity Group was approved under the 2015 changes to the Biosecurity and Agricultural Management Act.

These changes phased out the previously recognised declared species group, known as the Eastern Districts Declared Species Group, and the new group with the new funding structure, was approved earlier this year.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA), WA Grains Group and WAFarmers have hit back at news of the new levy adding to existing industry levies they believe should be adequate.

In a group statement, the industry representative groups said they have had enough of being told about levies and suggest consultation on the matter is lacking.

Under the previous model, declared species group controlled pests such as wild dogs and foxes and received funding from shires which were matched by the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA).

The new model will allow the new groups from the beginning of 2017, to request the Minister for Agriculture and Food to levy properties in their region, to be matched by the State Government to conduct declared pest control activities.

WA Grains Group chairman Doug Clarke said the lack of consultation on the new levy was frightening.

“From our discussions with farmers, few are aware of the changes, and even fewer are aware of what regional biosecurity group they are a part of,” he said.

PGA Western Graingrowers chairman Gary McGill said he was concerned about the ability for the Minister for Agriculture and Food to control the fund spending.

“Funds raised from a levy for a specific purpose should be preserved for that purpose,” he said.

WAFarmers Grains Council president Duncan Young is calling on the State Government to use the changes in DAFWA, and the reviews of the industry funding scheme to address industry concerns about funding allocations and rates.

“Farmers are paying the bill, so it isn’t a stretch for them to be asked to be involved in the discussions,” he said.

All groups are calling on the government to give farmers more transparency in how and why they change biosecurity and regional funding arrangements.

In March, DAFWA called for submissions on an amendment to the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act, regarding the maximum declared pest rate that could be charged to landowners for priority pest control.

Eastern Wheatbelt Biosecurity Group chairman Phil Smith, Hyden, said the group’s main focus had previously been wild dog management but was able to adapt to dealing with any biosecurity risks that could occur in the region.

The group incorporates 10 shires from Lake Grace in the south to past Mukinbudin in the north and similar groups already exist in pastoral areas such as Carnarvon, the Goldfields Nullarbor Rangelands, the Kimberley and Meekatharra.

Mr Smith said any opposition to the new structure was a matter for the State Government and DAFWA as his group was working to meet the requirements set out under the Act.

He said pest animal management was the responsibility of all landowners regardless of the type of operation they run.

“Our main focus is wild dogs, but if something else came up of significant importance we would work on that as well,” Mr Smith said.

“Every grower is responsible for vermin on their property.

“If we have a wild dog problem, somebody has got to sort it out and just because they’re not running sheep at the moment doesn’t mean they can let wild dogs run wild either.

“In the present state, it’s not to say some of those grain growers won’t agist sheep during the summer time or won’t run sheep again either.”

He said it was important to address wild dogs wherever they presented to prevent spread of the problem into some of the State’s key livestock areas such as the Great Southern.

“I know levies are very annoying to people but in the grand scheme of farming it’ll depend on how much land you’ve got as to how much you’ll be rated,” Mr Smith said.

“If we didn’t have something like this (Registered Biosecurity Groups), who would take care of it (the land) when there’s an issue.”