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Minister defends biosecurity levy delay | Newcastle Herald

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Australia’s agriculture minister has rejected claims the long wait for a biosecurity levy will put the nation at risk amid threats from coronavirus and a killer pig disease. David Littleproud regained control of the portfolio after Bridget McKenzie resigned last week. Mr Littleproud is confident Australia’s defences against biosecurity threats like the deadly coronavirus, which emerged at a Chinese animal market, have enough funding without the levy. “I think people have got to understand we’re still rolling out biosecurity programs,” he told AAP. “It’s just that because we’ve been able to manage the economy we haven’t hit industry up to pay for it. “That’s good stewardship of our nation’s economy.” The sea freight tax was slated to raise $325 million over three years to protect Australian agriculture. But it missed start dates in July and September last following backlash from the shipping industry. An alternative levy is due to be in place from January 2021 after further consultation, with importers to pick up the bill rather than shipping companies. The measure was announced in the 2018 budget after Wendy Craik’s expert committee recommended a levy in 2017. Australia has so far avoided the spread of African swine fever, a devastating disease that kills 80 per cent of infected pigs. “It’s very important that biosecurity underpins our market advantage,” Mr Littleproud said. The Queensland Nationals MP was agriculture minister between December 2017 and May last year before getting the job back in Thursday’s reshuffle. He’s contacted new department secretary Andrew Metcalfe to prioritise a $34 million scheme to pay farmers for environmental management. “That’s got to get out the door and this program has got to get up. I’m not going to take a backwards step on that,” the deputy Nationals leader said. “Farmers have got to be rewarded for their stewardship financially.” Farm labour shortages continue to be a major issue in horticulture, with the sector still without a dedicated agriculture visa stream despite years of lobbying. Mr Littleproud said he would continue to push the immigration minister to address the issue. “I couldn’t care less what you call it, as long as you get the solution we need on the ground,” he said. Australian Associated Press

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