AUSTRALIA’S national agvet chemical regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), will open its office in Armidale in northern NSW next March.
It follows the government sign-off to relocate the Authority from Canberra, a move that is contrary to the preferences of farmer organisations NFF, GrainGrowers Ltd and Grain Producers Australia.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said the move was part of a wider decentralisation strategy towards regional presence of agricultural agencies.
APVMA will join research heavyweight CSIRO and several livestock/agtech institutions already in Armidale.
“Relocating the APVMA is an important next step to bring more quality jobs and expertise to Armidale and the surrounding region – an area with a strong history in agriculture, now has an even stronger future in agriculture here.”
“Young regional scientists have been contributing to the APVMA for some time, but now they will also have access to a world-class opportunity on their doorstep.”
Minister Joyce said Canberra-based staff concerned about the move would be supported by a transition team and an Advisory Committee to oversee the relocation.
Grain Producers Australia chairman, Andrew Weidemann, said his organisation’s key concern was that APVMA needed to be able to conduct itself in a timely manner.
“APVMA are already behind on dates for a number of chemical-use approvals which growers would hope to have access to next year, “ he said.
“APVMA works on a cost-recovery model and it would be detrimental to growers if costs of the move, including incentives to attract key people who understand toxicology, were to result in higher chemical costs for growers.”
GrainGrowers general manager policy and innovation, David McKeon, said the focus should now turn to ensuring the agency improved its operations to better deliver for Australian agriculture including the grains sector.
“The decision to relocate APVMA has been made, and while we disagree with it, we need to now focus efforts on how to drive improved performance of the APVMA,” Mr McKeon said.
“For some time growers’ ability to manage threats to their crops have been restrained by the APVMA’s untimely product approvals.
“With chemical registration costs covered through applications and ongoing product levies, almost all costs of the APVMA are ultimately passed onto farmers.
“Grain farmers need to feel confident that the APVMA has the expertise and processes in place to facilitate the release of valuable new chemical products to market to allow them to combat weed and disease challenges.
“We also need to ensure that we do not lose access to critical products due to resource constraints or disruptions within the regulator brought on through relocation.”
“Therefore it is absolutely vital that the move doesn’t put in jeopardy the APVMA’s ability to access the specific-technical skills needed to allow the agency to continue operate efficiently and to the standards expected by Australian farmers.
“We’ll be watching the relocation carefully and along with other peak bodies such as the National Farmers’ Federation we’ll be keeping a close eye on APVMA performance against processing and approval timelines.
“GrainGrowers will also be watching closely to make sure the APVMA’s operating budget is not drawn upon to fund the relocation costs – this is a Government decision and Government must fund the full costs, it is not for farmers to fund such Government decisions.”
NFF CEO, Tony Mahar, put the Government on notice that it must continue to deliver on much needed reform of the APVMA to improve agvet chemical access.
“We must see improvements in the APVMA as a result of this move, including: decreased timelines for product approvals; renewed investment in Australia for new products; and improved efficiencies in the organisation,” he said.
“Additional delays in bringing new chemical products to market would be incredibly damaging to Australian farm businesses. We must see continued improvement in the functionality of the APVMA from this move. Funding allocated to regulatory reform must not be diverted to subsidise the relocation.
“The NFF has always been concerned that moving the APVMA would result in a loss of highly specific and skilled regulatory scientists, and damage organisational continuity – which would delay the already difficult registration process for new pesticides and medicines. This can’t be allowed to happen.
“The NFF supports the building of stronger regions. But regional development should be undertaken strategically, as part of an evidence-driven plan to build the entire economy. It is notable that the cost benefit analysis only found modest gains to the Australian economy as a result of the relocation.
“The Government has been insistent on the relocation and must now deliver on the positive benefits they envisage – or they will be held accountable for any negative impact on farm businesses.
“We look forward to working with the Government to ensure services and delivery of outcomes for farmers are not compromised.”
APVMA is a corporate Commonwealth entity established in 1993 to centralise the registration of agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines.
It assesses and registers all agvet chemicals proposed for use in Australia, and currently has around 11,700 products on its register. It is almost fully cost-recovered.
Other agencies moving to regional Australia include: Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC).
Already with offices in Armidale: CSIRO, the Beef Industry Centre of Excellence, the Australian Sheep Industry Cooperative Research Centre, Australian Poultry Cooperative Research Centre, Meat & Livestock Australia, Institute for Genetics and Bioinformatics, Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit, Institute for Rural Futures and the National Centre of Science, Information and Communication Technology and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia.
The move is part of a wider decentralisation strategy to grow the regional presence of agricultural agencies, including the Murray Darling Basin Authority expanding its regional presence from its current office in Toowoomba; the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) moved to Wagga Wagga; and the set-up of offices of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) in Toowoomba and Dubbo.