Inquiry says halt move

June 29, 2017

Senator Bridget McKenzie, with Damian Drum in the background at the Congupna round-table on dairy assistance.

A Senate inquiry into the location of Federal Government departments has recommended the move of the Australian Pest and Veterinary Medicines Authority be temporarily halted.

The committee is asking that in future, proposals to move government departments be subject to more rigorous scrutiny including a cost-benefit analysis.

They also want further study of decentralisation and how it should work.

Staff of the APVMA have strongly resisted the move of their department from Canberra to Armidale and the chief executive officer resigned over the issue.

A study by consultants Ernst and Young found that the ‘‘strategic and operational benefits of having the APVMA operate out of Armidale appear to be limited’’.

The committee said:

‘‘Significantly, the analysis concluded ‘that there is no material economic benefit associated with enhanced proximity to end users and other agricultural researchers and this aspect has therefore been excluded from the cost benefit analysis assessment’.’’

Ernst and Young highlighted the most significant risk will be the loss and replacement of staff.

Many submitters who are key stakeholders of the APVMA put forward their opposition to the APVMA’s move from Canberra.

The key reason for this opposition is the potential impact that the relocation will have on the APVMA’s performance.

A number of submitters highlighted their concerns with the current and future performance of the APVMA.

The APVMA itself has acknowledged that the proportion of applications that were meeting expected timeframes are falling noting that ‘‘we are missing the deadlines by between two and five weeks’’.

The Ricegrowers Association complained that pesticide applications were not being completed on time.

The dissenting report released by Senators James Paterson and Bridget McKenzie accuses the authors of the main report of distorting the evidence of hold-ups in the APVMA processing applications and the impact of moving out of Canberra.

‘‘Again the report misrepresents the ability of the APVMA to recruit or replace staff but is silent on evidence that this was an ongoing issue as demonstrated in the letter presented to the committee from former CEO Alison Turner that ‘found it really hard to recruit specialist agriculture and veterinary staff in Canberra. If I managed to recruit good staff they were poached by other agencies’,’’ the senators’ report said.

‘‘The committee is silent on the ongoing performance issues and selectively quotes to support its proposition that relocation is the key factor impacting on capability.

‘‘It seems opposition senators are more interested in headlines in the Canberra Times than addressing longstanding industry issues on the availability of regulator scientists.’’

The NSW DPI headquarters was moved to Orange, and the committee heard evidence from Peter Hargreaves from City of Greater Bendigo who outlined some of the successful relocations to Bendigo in recent times.

They include the Rural Finance Corporation from Melbourne in 2005, with about 40 jobs, and the Melbourne-based State Trustees established in 2011, with about 100 jobs, 75 of which went to local people.

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