By Annie Farrow
APAL has written to Senators to support the current Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016 which would enable research and development corporations like Hort Innovation to establish a register of levy payers (read the full submission).
Membership and voting rights for Hort Innovation are determined by the amount of levies paid. Under current arrangements the Government collects information from the levy collectors – the entities that lodge the returns – rather than from the actual levy payers. This means that Hort Innovation has no way of knowing who the levy payers are and how much they each pay.
As a result, apple and pear growers are forced to go through a two-step process for membership of an organisation they own. Filling out the Hort Innovation on-line membership form is not so onerous but to exercise voting rights growers have to lodge a statutory declaration about the value of the levies they pay.
A statutory declaration form has to be lodged every year before each Annual General Meeting. This ensures that voting entitlements are distributed fairly, in accordance with Hort Innovation’s Constitution. This imposes a burden on growers as well as on Hort Innovation who has to cross check them against membership forms. A register would ease that administrative burden and better ensure accuracy in the allocation of voting entitlements.
A register would also assist Hort Innovation to consult directly with levy payers about how their R&D and marketing funds are spent. I believe that apple and pear growers would attest to the importance they attach to, and the success of, the engagement and communication programs run by APAL as their primary source of information on the investment of the levies. Well-established and multifaceted touchpoints between APAL and growers provides for robust and constructive two way feedback on how levies are or should be spent.
APAL is the grower’s “go to place” for levy advice as it is the only organisation that has responsibilities across all of the apple and pear levies: research and development, marketing, national residue sampling and biosecurity – both for plant health and for emergency plant pest responses.
Providing Hort Innovation a mechanism to consult directly with levy payers would augment the good work that APAL does. Like most in horticulture, apple and pear growers face continued downward pressure on their farm gate returns as retailers squeeze grower margins and as input costs like labour and electricity rise. Research and development levies are critical to improving productivity and achieving cost efficiencies along the supply chain, as well as adding value to product offerings. Growers are best able to identify the specific issues that research and development must address to improve sustained profitability and growth. Direct engagement between levy payers and Hort Innovation will enrich the work that APAL does to align research investments to the priorities and expectations of the apple and pear industry.
In reviewing the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016, Senators have been asked to ensure that the legislation (or its associated regulations) do not impose any significant additional costs on the levy collector in providing contact, production and levy payment details for each levy payer but also on the Levy Revenue Service where levy collection costs are already high for some industries.
It is not yet clear how the Government will require levy collectors to provide details on levy payers, and APAL is seeking consultation on this issue. No doubt there are confidentiality and privacy issues which will need to be addressed.
APAL believes that it is imperative that industry representative bodies have access to an up-to-date data base of levy payers to ensure that their industries can adequately prepare for biosecurity incidences and respond with urgency to biosecurity emergencies. Organisations like APAL are, along with governments, signatories to the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed. Whilst the Research and Development Corporations invest in critical biosecurity research, they do not have a statutory operational role in biosecurity preparedness, response or eradication.
Obtaining access to an updated database after a biosecurity incident introduces time lags, particularly as the industry representative organisation uploads the database into its own communication portals. Such lags devalue the ability to respond to emergencies, lowering the chances of containment and eradication. Moreover, the effort that is expended in educating the industry about plant health, bisosecurity awareness, pest identification and so on is considerably more effective when all growers can be readily contacted and educated on an on-going basis.