The mysterious resignation of Barnaby Joyce’s hand-picked Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) CEO yesterday is the latest sign that the relocation of the important independent regulator has been a debacle.
It was clear from day one in 2015 – when the then-Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce announced the APVMA should relocate to Armidale – that it was not about decentralisation as claimed by the Coalition Government. Rather, moving the APVMA to regional NSW was all about Barnaby Joyce’s political fortunes. Members of the then Cabinet including Scott Morrison were happy to put the Agriculture Minister’s tantrums ahead of the interests of our farmers.
There continues to be over 50 APVMA staff, from the full staff of 180, working in Canberra, which is contrary to the Finance Minister’s Order and constitutes an admission of failure. If these highly-specialised and highly sought-after staff were to leave the APVMA the agency would collapse.
The Authority’s CEO Dr Chris Parker did his best to dress it up, but the relocation has failed the pesticides and animal medicines companies who pay for the APVMA’s operations; the move has failed our farmers; it’s put consumers and our environment at risk; and it’s put our export reputation at risk.
A police investigation into a mysterious fire where the APVMA is now located in Armidale is on-going. One person of interest is dead and the regulator is still struggling to secure expert staff.
The relocation proceeded in 2018 despite an independent cost-benefit analysis by Ernst & Young finding against it. The author of the report is now the Secretary of the Agriculture Department.
The cost to the taxpayer has been enormous and we now have no confidence the APVMA can adequately perform the tasks required of it. At a recent Senate inquiry it was revealed that under Dr Parker’s leadership the APVMA has experienced performance and financial difficulties separate to the relocation pressures. The Prime Minister must assure all Australians that APVMA can continue to do its job as an independent regulator and that our farmers will not bear the cost of APVMA relocation debacle.