The Australian government's proposal to raise fees for export certification has been firmly rejected by Citrus Australia, the peak industry body for citrus growers, with chief executive Nathan Hancock calling the potential increases “astonishing”.
If the proposals were enacted, growers wanting to export fruit would face substantially higher fees, including a 277 per cent increase in tonnage charges across both protocol and non-protocol markets. This would be represented in a price rise from A$1.30 (US$0.89) to A$4.90 (US$3.36) per tonne in protocol markets, and a rise from A$0.65 (US$0.45) to A$2.45 (US$1.68) per tonne in non-protocol markets.
The export establishment registration fee would also rise by 44 per cent, from A$6,000 (US$4,115) to A$8,655 (US$5,935), and the hourly audit rate would also increase, from A$144 (US$98) to A$228 (US$156) per hour.
It’s a move that Hancock said lacks the sincerity of a federal government wanting to grow the Australian agriculture industry.
“At a time when we are suffering the worst drought in living memory, the Government is increasing charges on our growers by exorbitant amounts,” said Hancock.
“For the average grower that wants to export, the proposed costs will equate to around A$30,000 (US$20,575) per year before they have even exported a single carton. They will be then be charged more than A$250 (US$171.46) per container to export.”
Hancock was particularly scathing of federal agriculture minister Bridget McKenzie, saying she had signed off on what can only be described as an incredibly poor piece of policy.
Hancock added that the citrus industry does not disagree with cost recovery from the government. However, he said the government needed to provide a detailed explanation of its programme costs to enable a constructive engagement process.
“This is particularly important as the Department has a monopoly on export certification so there is no alternative provider for growers to compare," added Hancock.
“It also seems there has been no effort to engage directly with affected businesses or allow them to participate in the process.
“In March 2018, we provided a detailed submission to Government outlining our concerns – but clearly the Department has disregarded everything we wrote."