Conclusions and recommendations
The committee considers this government policy order is deficient in a
number of key areas. This order is opposed by stakeholders, the agricultural
sector, and the regulator itself on the basis that it is 'all cost and no
Tellingly, the government's own cost-benefit analysis reached the same
conclusion, finding no strategic or other benefits to the move. This analysis
also found that the benefit to Armidale from the move would be less than the
economic loss to Canberra from losing the agency.
To date, a significant amount of damage has been done to the APVMA
throughout this process. Many highly specialised and dedicated regulatory
scientists who otherwise may have stayed with the regulator have already
left—likely permanent losses to the regulator. This is a sector already characterised
by a shortage of regulatory scientists. In some ways, the consequences of these
losses are irreversible; however, to continue with the relocation will only
lead to further damage. On that basis, the committee is of the view that the
order should be revoked.
The committee recommends that the Public Governance, Performance and
Accountability (Location of Corporate Commonwealth Entities) Order 2016 be
The risks associated with the relocation of the APVMA to Armidale are
well-known and not in dispute. The loss of experienced staff and the inability
to recruit similarly qualified and experienced personnel at the new location is
the most pronounced risk. Over 90 per cent of current employees have indicated
they are not able to relocate themselves and their families to Armidale—over
700 kilometres away. Putting aside concerns about disruption caused before,
during and after the move, the loss of staff is central to fears that the
APVMA's performance will continue to decline. The committee received evidence
suggesting that it may take from five to seven years to train new recruits. Put
simply, it is the committee view that the APVMA is not going to be able to
function effectively for a considerable period as a result of this move.
As a direct result of this staffing risk, the committee has considerable
concerns about the ability of the APVMA to perform its statutory functions in
the lead up to, and after the relocation of the regulator to Armidale. There is
already evidence that the relocation is adversely impacting on the agencies
stakeholders and end-users, including the farming sector. The failure of the
relocated APVMA to undertake timely assessments will have an extensive
financial impact on pesticide companies and Australian farmers. There will be a
substantial opportunity cost as a result of the Australian farm and food sector
not being able to take advantage of the soft commodity boom. The pesticide
industry told the committee that investment from these companies in Australia
has decreased due to fears of uncertain approval processes as a result of the
Undertaking either a major
business model review, or a move to a regional centre, would be a major
operational undertaking for any organisation. Undertaking both at the same time
under a new interim CEO, whilst experiencing ongoing staffing losses, is a
The committee notes that there
is ongoing confusion regarding the move. The APVMA’s review of its business
model has consequences for numerous aspects of the logistics of the move, such
as the design of the digital strategy.
The committee considers that it
would be preferable if the order was revoked and the move cancelled. At a
minimum, however, the move should be paused until the APVMA’s review of its
business model can be completed.
The committee recommends that the move of the APVMA be paused until the
APVMA concludes its review of its business model.
Establishment of the regulatory
The committee supports one aspect of this move and that is the
establishment of a regulatory science course at UNE. There is a recognised
shortage of regulatory scientists, not just at the APVMA, but at other
regulators including the TGA and FSANZ. A new course—not currently available in
Australia—which trains scientists in risk management and statutory
interpretation is welcomed by industry. However, as noted by several submitters
and witnesses to the inquiry, the establishment of this course should be
mutually exclusive from the relocation.
The committee recommends that the establishment of the regulatory
science course at the University of New England is actively encouraged and
supported by the Commonwealth. The establishment of this course should not be
contingent on the relocation of the APVMA.
Consultation and policy development leading to the making of the order
Consultation in relation to this move has been virtually non-existent.
Staff and stakeholders found out about the move through a ministerial media
release. The consultation with the APVMA prior to the decision to relocate
being taken was also inadequate. The APVMA strongly recommended against the
move, but in the event it was relocated outlined its reasons for choosing
Toowoomba over Armidale. This advice appears to have been ignored on both
accounts, with the Minister announcing that the APVMA would not only move, but
that it would move to Armidale. The states and territories, who by agreement
formed the APVMA in 1993, also appear not to have been involved in any
consultation. It is clear that the pesticide industry, the agricultural sector,
the states and territories, DAWR and the APVMA played no role in the
development of this policy.
It appears that no other location was ever under serious consideration
by the government. The committee received no evidence that other regions were
consulted or provided with the opportunity to compete for the APVMA. Toowoomba,
raised as an option in the Deputy Prime Minister's letter to the CEO of the
APVMA, and preferred by the CEO in her reply, appears to have been dismissed
very early. At the Canberra hearing, both the Department of Agriculture and
Water Resources and the APVMA admitted that the Deputy Prime Minister did not
request nor did they provide any information or analysis about the
unsuitability of Toowoomba or the benefits that Armidale held over Toowoomba.
The lack of clarity regarding the decision-making process and the
absence of a transparent selection process leads the committee to conclude that
there is only one obvious driver for the decision, and that is political
Role of the Finance Minister
The committee is concerned that the Finance Minister does not appear to
have scrutinised the Deputy Prime Minister's proposed order to ensure that it
represents value for money for the taxpayer, nor whether the order would
detrimentally affect the performance of the affected agency. In adopting this
approach, it appears that the Finance Minister did not question why a
government commissioned cost-benefit analysis was completely ignored. This
narrow interpretation of the Finance Minister’s role seems inadequate in the
face of evidence of the significance and potential impact of this decision.
The committee notes the Finance Minister's observation that a 'more
structured process for assessment' would be utilised in the future. It is the
committee's view that the government's acknowledgement of the need for a more
structured process moving forward indicates that the process used for the
relocation of the APVMA was inadequate.
Risks to compliance with the
APVMA's governance and statutory obligations
Questions remain as to how the APVMA will meet its statutory timeframes
for applications, and how it will meet its duty of governance as required by
section 15 of the PGPA Act. It is not clear to the committee how the APVMA will
be able to meet either of these requirements if the relocation proceeds.
The committee recommends that the Finance Minister apply greater
scrutiny to future requests or orders to be made under the Public Governance,
Performance and Accountability Act 2013 with a specific focus on consideration
being given to the following:
the financial and governance implications on an agency from an
order under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013; and
a cost-benefit analysis. In the event that a cost-benefit
analysis does not identify a net benefit from the proposed order, the Finance Minister
should require the relevant minister to explain the grounds on which the order
should be made.
As noted earlier, this inquiry has received a large volume of
submissions regarding broader decentralisation policy. There is a clear
groundswell of interest in rural and regional Australia for a broad
parliamentary inquiry into decentralisation.
This committee was not in a position to satisfy that interest through
this inquiry. It is best if an inquiry into decentralisation is undertaken by a
committee with broadly drafted terms of reference that empower that committee
to speak to a range of policy experts and stakeholders. The committee considers
such an inquiry ought to be undertaken by a committee comprised of members of
both Houses of Parliament.
The committee recommends that a broad inquiry led by
representatives from both Houses of Parliament be undertaken into the merits of
decentralisation, and the appropriate policy mechanisms for undertaking it.
Senator Jenny McAllister
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