2016 November: Pesticide agency relocation from Canberra to Armidale

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Pesticides agency relocation from Canberra to Armidale approved

UPDATE: PEAK plant science body CropLife Australia has slammed the Federal Government’s decision to forge ahead with moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale.

CropLife chief executive Matthew Cossey said today’s announcement lacked any initiatives that would make the move to University of New England “a genuine Centre of Excellence”.

“Simply relocating an agency from one building in Canberra to one in Armidale does not make a Centre of Excellence,” Mr Cossey said.

“While we recognise the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is acting with good intentions, just relocation in itself doesn’t achieve anything except interrupting the efforts being made by the APVMA to improve regulatory efficiency.”

While CropLife believed the relocation would have negative consequences, Mr Cossey said his organisation was keen to work with the Government to try minimise the impact.

“There is opportunity to deliver structural changes and initiatives that would leverage technology to streamline APVMA and associated regulatory operations,” he said.

“It’s imperative that the Government now works with key stakeholders including, CropLife Australia, the National Farmers’ Federation and other industry stakeholders to ensure the delivery of outcomes that enhance Australian farmers’ productivity.”

Barnaby Joyce is forging ahead with the forced relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to his home electorate.

Mr Joyce confirmed this morning that the long-touted relocation to the University of New England would go ahead — via an extraordinary government order forcing the regulator to move — at a cost of $25.6 million.

That’s more than the original proposed cost of $24.1 million.

In addition to the move, UNE will offer a regulatory science course from next year and a new “digital strategy” for the APVMA will be developed.

Plans to relocate APVMA — and its 175 staff — were first flagged more than a year ago.

Mr Joyce has been steadfast in his desire for the agency to move to Armidale, where it would be located at UNE alongside the school’s existing agricultural research centres to create a “centre of excellence in agriculture”.

The move has been strongly opposed by the sector — including plant science peak body CropLife and the National Farmers’ Federation — who fear it would lead to the loss of expert staff reluctant to move, and delays in approvals of vital ag-vet chemicals.

Labor has slammed the move as blatant pork-barrelling.

A cost-benefit analysis — expected to be released today — is also understood that the move did not stack up economically.

But this week, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann invoked a government policy order — that does not need to go through Parliament — that forces the relocation of “corporate Commonwealth entities with agricultural policy or regulatory responsibilities” to a regional community.

That community must be at least 150 kilometres away from Canberra or a state capital city, and the agency must be within 10 kilometres of the main campus of a regional university “recognised for research and teaching in the field of agricultural science”.

Mr Joyce said the move “puts APVMA regulators at the heart of where the boots hit the dirt in country Australia”.

“Not only will the move modernise the APVMA, with a fresh digital strategy essential to its success, but it will also provide unprecedented opportunity to young scientists on the Northern Tablelands,” Mr Joyce said.

“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.”

Mr Joyce said Canberra-based staff concerned about moving would be supported by a transition team and an advisory committee to oversee the relocation.

The move is part of the Coalition’s decentralisation policy, which will see the Murray Darling Basin Authority have a stronger regional presence, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation move to Wagga Wagga, and Grains Research and Development Corporation office set-up in Toowoomba and Dubbo.