APVMA to stay in Armidale as independent authority

Grain Central, April 17, 2024

A social media post from APVMA in 2018 outlining its planned move from Canberra to Armidale. Photo: APVMA

THE Federal Government has elected to keep the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority in Armidale, and allow some staff to work remotely.

The announcement was made today in Armidale by Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt alongside the release of the Final Report on Future Structure and Governance Arrangements for the APVMA, known informally as the Rapid Evaluation, and the government’s preliminary response.

The report, conducted by Ken Matthews, was ordered after an independent review by Clayton Utz found serious and systemic cultural and governance issues within the APVMA between 2019 and 2022.

Among the 33 recommendations made, two not accepted called for the staged transfer of the APVMA back to Canberra, and another to roll the APVMA into the Federal Department of Agriculture as a separate unit.

“A strong, independent, well-functioning APVMA that is making the best science-based decisions, is vital to the future success of the agricultural sector,” Mr Watt said in a statement.

“We want to ensure that we have the world’s best chemical regulator, so that consumers and our overseas customers can have confidence in the food and fibre we produce.

“At the same time, the APVMA needs to be structured so that it can independently and efficiently approve new, safe chemicals that help farmers do their job.”

Mr Watt said the the Albanese Government also believed there were more efficient and effective ways to address issues identified within the APVMA, some of which have already been implemented.

These include:

  • A new Ministerial Statement of Expectations for the APVMA;
  • Expediting eight long-running chemical reconsiderations;
  • Releasing the APVMA Strategy 2030; and,
  • A new APVMA Values Statement and updated APVMA Board Charter.

Mr Watt has also taken aim at the previous direction of the APVMA, namely “the disproportionate focus on chemical approvals over compliance and enforcement which was driven by the Liberal-National Coalition Government.”

“The government supports many of the 33 recommendations in the Rapid Evaluation and will propose alternative ways to address identified problems for those that are not supported.”

Staying put in regional NSW

Mr Watt said maintaining the APVMA’s headquarters in Armidale would avoid a repeat of the upheaval caused by the Coalition Government’s decision to move the APVMA out of Canberra.

“The disruption and chaos caused by Barnaby Joyce when he forcibly relocated the APVMA to his local electorate put a massive strain on the staff at the regulator, and according to the independent review ‘has had serious impacts on the performance and culture of the APVMA’.”

“We will not be making the same mistake.

“The APVMA will remain in Armidale, giving certainty to local workers and the local community.”

“We do, however, intend to implement the Rapid Evaluation’s recommendation that we revoke the government policy order that required APVMA staff to be based in Armidale.

“Removing the order brings the APVMA in line with every other federal agency and recognises the fact that a number of current APVMA staff are not based in Armidale.

“This move will ensure the APVMA can deal with existing recruitment challenges and get the best people for the job, regardless of where they live.”

Independence retained

Mr Watt said the government had also decided the APVMA will remain an independent statutory authority.

“While Mr Matthews has recommended the APVMA be moved into the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and that the APVMA Board be abolished, I consider that retaining the APVMA as an independent statutory authority, with its own board, provides the best assurance of regulatory independence in the context of Australia’s agvet chemicals regulatory system.”

“It’s been a tumultuous time for APVMA staff and management, and they’ve been working hard to implement changes and improve their culture and performance.

“I want to thank them for how far they’ve already come, and I know they will continue to build a better APVMA in the future.”

The Federal Government will release a full response to all recommendations made by Mr Matthews in mid-2024.

The government has also set up the APVMA Reform Taskforce to develop and cost a detailed response that will identify further reforms to the regulatory system to address other recommendations in the Rapid Evaluation.

Source: Federal Minister for Agriculture


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