Barnaby Joyce under the whip by horse breeders over levy refusal

28 Dec, 2015 06:57 AM
Brian Nutt with a mare and foal at Attunga Stud in Scone, Hunter Valley. Photo: Joan Faras
Brian Nutt with a mare and foal at Attunga Stud in Scone, Hunter Valley. Photo: Joan Faras

It's the epicentre of Australia's thoroughbred breeding industry and will soon become part of the redrawn electorate of Barnaby Joyce.

But the Agriculture Minister is already offside with the horse breeders of Scone in the NSW Hunter Valley after refusing to back the industry's request for a government-supported agricultural levy to fund research and development.

Mr Joyce's refusal to authorise the levy makes thoroughbred breeding the first sector to be knocked back in 30 years of bipartisan support for the rural research program.

The peak body for breeders, Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, was told in a meeting with Mr Joyce's office in November that budget constraints made their request impossible.

But just weeks later, as part of the midyear budget update, Mr Joyce announced a 1 per cent levy on all sales of sweet potatoes from January 1 to fund a strategic marketing plan by that industry.

He also signed off on a chestnut levy at the same time to help growers pay off a liability associated with the emergency response to eradicate chestnut blight.

After thoroughbred breeders voted in support of a levy in 2013, the industry approached Mr Joyce with a proposal for a $10 levy per mare covered per season, to be paid by the stallion owner, and $10 per mare returned per season, paid by the broodmare owner.

The levy, which was expected to raise $400,000 a year and be matched by government, would fund research on biosecurity and improving fertility and conception rates and reducing foetal loss.

A spokesman for Mr Joyce said: "The difficult budget situation made it not possible to support the horse levy proposal at this time. Minister Joyce is happy to continue discussing the research and development needs of the industry."

Some breeders believe the industry's request was knocked back because of a perception that the industry is dominated by business blue bloods who do not need a leg up from government.

But figures from the Australian Stud Book – the births, deaths and marriages for the thoroughbred world – show more than three-quarters of breeders own just one or two mares.

Brian Nutt, whose Attunga Stud in Scone employs nine people, said: "Maybe politicians like Barnaby Joyce think all breeders are sheikhs or billionaires, but the reality is nearly all of us are small or medium-sized businesses. We can't just go and commission a scientific study into something like why mares abort late in their pregnancy, which is something that can hit our business very hard," he said.

"Hopefully, when Scone becomes part of Barnaby's constituency he'll be able to spend some time here and understand the nature of our industry. Once he's done that I'm sure he'll recognise why we need a levy which raises industry money for important research and then kicks in some from the government side."

Joel Fitzgibbon, whose seat of Hunter will lose Scone to Mr Joyce's New England electorate in the coming redistribution of federal seats, said breeding and its associated industries in the area were the dominant economic driver.

"Barnaby Joyce, having denied what seems to be an eminently sensible proposition by breeders, must explain why he granted a levy to two other industries but said no to this one," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Basil Nolan, president of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, said a recent state government report found there were 4,400 jobs in the thoroughbred breeding industry in NSW – a quarter of those in the Hunter region.

"We're very disappointed at the minister's decision, especially as we're the first industry ever to be knocked back for these matched grants," he said.

"Breeding is an important industry, providing a lot of work in rural areas, and this levy was to be put towards research on disease control, biosecurity and research around reproduction, all areas which would safeguard these jobs.

"We saw with the equine influenza outbreak in 2008 how devastating any disease outbreak can be to the wider economy so it seems a bit short-sighted to refuse our application. I sincerely hope Barnaby will reconsider our application."

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28/12/2015 10:35:16 PM

It's pretty simple, horses are for sport, leisure and recreation etc (a want) and food is a need. When funds are short prioritisation must occur.


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