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Reform needed for competition watchdog to be effective

Industry Advocacy

Ensuring growers get a fair price for their produce is not only our sector’s number 1 priority but also the entire horticulture sector’s number 1 priority

Key to getting a fair price for produce is making sure the Australian competition enforcer (the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC]) has access to meaningful powers to impose a level playing field. Former heads of the ACCC have been calling for years for dramatically improved powers after repeated losses in court to large corporates. The ACCC has been thwarted at every turn while trying to protect the public and suppliers against unconscionable conduct, unfair contracts and anti-competitive behaviour. 

The government needs to urgently enact legislation that allows the ACCC to be much more effective, including dramatically increased penalties. Measures should be taken to make individuals more accountable for any anti-competitive behaviour as opposed to just fines, which in many cases can be seen as simply a cost of doing business.  

Hopefully, given the recent events involving PwC, the government may now be taking advice from the big end of town with a grain of salt and enact this meaningful legislation.  

Red tape monster takes aim at PALM

Labour remains one of the biggest challenges the industry faces, even prior to the Covid pandemic. At the last election, the federal Labor government abandoned the Agriculture Visa but promised to replace it with something better. Pleasingly, the Pacific Australian Labour Mobility scheme (the renamed Seasonal Worker Program) has rebounded strongly from a Covid low of 8,000 workers to approximately 37,000.  

However, the recently proposed changes to the scheme’s deed and guidelines risks torpedoing this rebounding and highly successful program. This is already a very highly regulated scheme with strong compliance. 

The dramatic increase in regulation, additional costs, minimum hour requirements and the ability cost recovery etc. etc, has raised serious concerns about the future of the scheme. 

The industry supports the government’s need to address worker exploitation; however, there are many effective methods of achieving the same outcome. Simply throwing pages of regulation at the problem is lazy.  

APAL is working with the whole horticulture sector to find practical alternatives to ensure the ongoing success of this program. 

Biosecurity levy

The federal government recently announced a 45 per cent increase in biosecurity funding, amounting to approximately $250 million per year over the next four years. While this is a positive outcome, it will be funded, in part, by an increase in the levy on all domestic agricultural, fisheries and forestry producers starting from 1 July 2024.  

For apple producers, this increase would equate to $0.001845 (or less than 0.19 cents) per kilogram or 2.4 cents for a 12kg carton 

APAL is pursuing the government to ensure the money is used to fund additional activities, rather than just providing top-up funding for the department. 

 

This article was first published in the Winter 2023 edition of AFG.

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