22 Jul 2019

Biosecurity funding overhaul: Scant detail worries farmers

2:32 pm on 22 July 2019

The government is planning an overhaul of biosecurity funding, but a lack of detail is making farming sectors nervous.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, also Biosecurity Minister, Food Safety Minister, Rural Communities Minister, Trade and Export Growth Minister of State

Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor, who is also agriculture minister and rural communities minister. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor told Parliament in February there needed to be a better way of funding biosecurity, because of heavy costs on the taxpayer from combating threats like Mycoplasma bovis.

Mr O'Connor restated that position in Nelson on Friday when he announced an overhaul of the country's biosecurity system, but he gave no details of how the funding would work - or whether farmers might have to pay more.

In a statement, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) indicated it did not know much detail either, saying only that financial pressure would increase so something had to be done.

"We will be looking at how the biosecurity system is funded," the ministry said, blaming greater pressure on resources.

"This includes significant year-on-year increases in the volume of people and goods coming to New Zealand, and a changing climate.

"We want to ensure the biosecurity system is properly funded. At this stage we don't have all the answers and we will be working with industry stakeholders, Māori and others to look at the best possible options."

Farming groups told RNZ they were already helping out through Government Industry Agreements (GIAs) which share costs of fighting biosecurity incursions between farmers and the Crown.

They said they wanted more information on the overhaul.

The industry obligation varies from sector to sector across the 21 GIAs, and it is not clear whether the government would strengthen them, replace them or add separate funding measures.

The government's financial exposure to foreign pests and diseases is well established: it faces having to pay $400 million for kiwifruit disease PSA depending on the outcome of a case headed to the Court of Appeal, is already spending $600 million on fighting Mycoplasma bovis, and faces several other incursions.