majority report shows that non-government Senators (including Labor and Green
Senators) do not support the decentralisation of government bodies to regional
The report fails to understand that the Government Policy Order was
specifically drafted to give effect to the government’s 2016 election
commitment to relocate the APVMA to Armidale, New South Wales:
from the start
majority report is unbalanced, selectively quoting wide ranging views on
complicated issues to give a skewed view on an important agency for the
agricultural sector. The Government’s commitment to move the APVMA to Armidale
and to develop a centre of excellence is in response to long standing
performance issues at the APVMA and the ongoing shortage of regulatory
scientists impacting on the efficiency of the regulatory agency.
Senate inquiry process has been a political witch hunt right from the start.
The opposition senators claims that the terms of reference do not cover issues
of decentralisation is clearly wrong. Hundreds of organisations and individuals
have taken the time to participate in this senate inquiry and yet the majority report
dismisses them and their evidence
instance, despite 80% of submissions from regional councils being supportive of
decentralisation, the only council quoted in the majority report is the city of
Cessnock: an ALP-dominated municipality within the Labor-held federal seat of
fact, of 200 submissions received, 177 (88.5%) were supportive of
decentralising government services; this included 85 from local government
areas, and a further 28 from regional development corporations.
the complex issues of decentralisation and relocating government services – and
in view of the number of overwhelmingly supportive submissions received –
Coalition Senators note that a total of two public hearings by this committee
is an insult to those stakeholders who were effectively shut out of the process
by way of minimal opportunities to present their cases, being obliged to travel
to Townsville or Canberra from across Australia to do so, or both.
claims in the committee’s report of a “narrow focus” in its terms of reference,
Coalition Senators wish to note that clause (d) in the said terms of reference
specifically empowered the committee to examine any other related matters
which, in this case, was specifically intended to deal with the decentralisation
of government agencies over and beyond the relocation of the AVPMA to Armidale.
shadow minister for Agriculture, conducted research which was similarly flawed.
The assumptions on which this research was conducted included using the outer boundaries
of greater capital cities statistical areas (GCCSAs) whereby country towns such
as Romsey and Sorrento are part of ‘Melbourne’. Clearly, the ALP has no idea
what is regional and what is urban.
majority report of the committee is filled with selective quotations from
witness testimony designed to fulfil the objective of Labor Senators to scuttle
both the relocation of the AVPMA and the government’s wider initiative of
decentralising government to regional centres.
requests of Government Senators the Committee did not hold a hearing in Armidale,
New South Wales, despite it being the regional centre to which the APVMA is
relocating. Four submissions were received from Armidale-based organizations,
including the University of New England, Armidale Regional Council, the Poultry
Cooperative Research Centre and Regional Development Australia – Northern
University of New England or other Armidale-based research organisations were
not invited to appear at the public hearings. A key component of the
government’s 2016 election commitment is to create a Centre of Agricultural
Excellence with the university and nearby industry research organisations such
as CSIRO, Meat & Livestock Australia and the Institute for Rural Futures.
Insights from these organisations were missed.
are some key examples of selective representation in the majority report and
quoting begins early. The APSC was questioned on whether they had been
consulted in relation to the policy order, they hadn’t been but on further
questioning and not reflected in the majority report they acknowledged that
they wouldn’t have expected to be consulted prior to government policy being
majority report highlights the 48 separations from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016 and
it characterises as “voting with their feet” as a response to the relocation of
the agency and latter describes staff separations as key reason for the drop in
the performance of the agency.
if we look at when the Deputy Prime Minister actually made the election
commitment to move the agency on the 6 June 2016 at the end of this period and
the General Policy Order (GPO) was made on 23 November 2016 long after this and
the argument for significantly linking separations in that period to relocation
is not made.
we look at performance of the agency we can see that the overall timeframe
performance for September quarter 2015 was 64% and this dramatically improved
to the June quarter 2016 to 76%[i]
despite the increase in separations.
committee decides to ignore submissions on broader decentralisation policy of
government in light of the narrow terms of reference. This ignores Part D of
the terms of reference “any other related matter” and the committees request
for a number of councils to present to the committee in Townsville despite
their submissions focusing on these broader decentralisation policy setting. It
also ignores the Committee Chairs statement in a press release about this Senate
Inquiry on the day of the Townsville hearing saying “Australia
deserves a proper plan for growing jobs in all of our regions”[ii]. Coalition Senators couldn’t agree
more, it’s a pity the majority report does not reflect the chairs view.
The majority report still chose to ignore any submissions going
to this broader agenda.
The majority report quotes a councillor Mulholland
from the hearing saying that Minister Joyce said the Department of Agriculture
and Water resources (DAWR) would not be decentralised but ignored the DAWR
submission that the department and its portfolio entities are already highly
decentralised. Departmental officers work from more than 170 locations in
Australia and internationally, with over half of the department’s 5236 officers
based outside Canberra and more than 600 officers based in regional, rural and
The majority report claims 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.”
criticism misconceives the purpose of the GPO as implementation
instrument, which was put in place subsequent to an election commitment and a
Cabinet decision that properly took into account the impacts of the
the Department of Finance noted in its submission: “For the purposes of the PGPA
Act, a policy of the Australian Government is a policy that is approved by the
government, usually by Cabinet, the Prime Minister or the Minister responsible
for the policy (policy Minister) acting in their area of delegated authority.
The Finance Minister must, before making a GPO, be satisfied that the policy
Minister has consulted the body or bodies to which it will apply on the
application of the policy.”
this case the GPO was made by the Finance Minister following a decision by
Cabinet and following the Deputy Prime Minister’s consultation with the Chief
Executive Officer of the APVMA. Before making its decision, the Government
commissioned work by Ernst & Young, which included cost-benefit analysis,
and consulted with industry about the relocation proposal. That work informed
the deliberations of Cabinet and, as a Senior Minister, the Finance Minister is
always actively involved in Cabinet deliberations. There is no evidence to
support the contention that the Finance Minister did not properly inform
himself of Cabinet Submissions, or properly consider advice of the Deputy Prime
Minister about the case for the proposed relocation and its impacts.
the report misrepresents the ability of the APVMA to recruit or replace staff
but is silent on evidence that this was an ongoing issues 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
committee is silent on the ongoing performance issues and selectively quotes to
support it’s 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
will be demonstrated later in this dissenting report under the subheading of
a key example when the Coalition came to government a new innovative drench
called Startect developed in Australia for Australian conditions was available
in New Zealand for 2 years before the APVMA completed registration in for use
by Australian farmers. The government has taken this action to relocate and
refocus the APVMA because of ongoing performance issues.
report continues a discussion about the agencies performance highlighting the
most recent statistics but ignores the APVMA’s recent evidence at the senate estimates
that a significant reason for the recent drop in performance was related to a
focus on clearing a backlog of particularly difficult applications that was
diverting resources from other applications.
“Senator RICE: No. It is not going to jump to the levels that were
experienced over 2015 and 2016 ..........
Mr Norden: Not while we focus on getting rid of the overdue
applications that are before us[iv].”
majority report demonstrates the importance of the role of the APVMA for
Australian agriculture with figures about the importance of pesticides and animal
medicines but provides a misleads the reader that all existing registered
chemicals are at risk. This is not the case as only the registration of new
chemical products and the variation of existing registrations is impacted by
the timeframe performance of the agency. What the figures represented by
Industry do demonstrate the importance of the Industry and that the Government
cannot afford not to take the required action to reform the agency and improve
if only opposition senators understood agriculture and the supporting
regulatory oversight required, their response would be less politically
motivated and more responsive to the needs of regional communities and their
broadly the government has embarked on a decentralisation program to grow jobs
in regional Australia. This will involve a whole of government process to
identify which government functions or agencies that are suitable for
government will also establish a new parliamentary committee to look into the
development of rural and regional Australia, including the potential to
relocate government agencies and functions from cities. This is in addition to
the government’s Regional Australia Ministerial Taskforce, formed on 14 March
2017 to improve the lives of rural, regional and remote Australians. It will
come up with ideas across portfolios including health, education, transport and
infrastructure, employment, industry and communications.
The committee heard from numerous witnesses that the
performance of the APVMA has been problematic for a long period of time.
Mr Andrew Mason, President of Animal Medicines Australia was
more direct in his appraisal of the APVMA's performance over recent years:
Certainly in my time back in this role—coming from overseas
back into Australia for the last five years—we have seen a pretty much
dysfunctional regulator. The system is broken, no doubt. In terms of the
liability of registration and things like that, we cannot make decisions. In
fact, it is pretty clear that some of our decisions have been taken out of
Australia, so we are focusing on other places like Brazil or Latin America,
Africa, and other countries outside of Australia, because we see such
regulatory uncertainty in Australia. Time lines are not met, the hoops that we
have to jump through doing local trials versus using international trials—the
list goes on. Certainly, we are seeing some change in the small animal space,
where some international data is being recognised but, even still, I would say
that there was a legislation change, or the attempt of good legislation in
2014, which is still, in our belief, dysfunctional in how the regulator can
navigate through that efficiently. Of course, there is the whole resourcing; I
mean, it takes people to do this. We clearly see that the people issue is the
biggest topic here until they have the right expertise to navigate their way
Mr Adams detailed the impact of delays on farmers and pet
It is having the same impact, we believe, that Mr Mason was
describing before: people are stopping investment in product development and
are not going ahead with applications because of the fact that there is no
certainty as to what will happen. The impact right now is not necessarily all
that great, but the impact in the long term will be great because there is this
hiatus coming up to three years now, during which time these applications have
not been able to proceed as they did for the 20 years prior. That would be the
same sort of time lag as we are getting from overseas applicants in particular,
and we have a couple of members whose headquarters are overseas who are saying,
'We won't invest in development of products for Australia because we don't know
whether we will get them through or not.'
Government senators note that these performance issues were
well and truly evident long before any relocation announcement or consideration
of it. Witnesses recognised the relocation as the opportunity to reform, to
investigate a new model with new ways of working more efficiently and
Ms Kareena Arthy, then CEO APVMA told the committee of the work
being undertaken in relation to improving performance:
I am not resiling from the issues that we do have in terms of
performance, and certainly in the last four years since I have been there we
have been working incredibly hard on a whole range of fronts to set ourselves
up to be able to be more efficient. We have been doing things like really
looking at our internal processes to get our business process efficiency
working, and we have just finished a major business processing map which will
now form the basis of a digital strategy for the future, which is really quite
exciting. We have also taken a good, hard look at the risk appetite that we
apply to applications. So, rather than holding up applications requiring more
and more information, we are looking at how we can use international
assessments far more, how we use international data and how we put those
applications that we do not really need to do a lot for through other means.
For example, we implemented five what are called notifiable variations, so
applicants do not need to put in a formal application; they can just notify us.
There are a whole range of projects around that. We have, of course, also been undertaking
a lot of the internal training and a lot of internal reorganisation to make
sure that we have the right people looking at some of these areas, so we do
have the more experienced people looking at the more difficult applications.
Further, Ms Arthy told the committee:
We have also increased contestability in what we do.
Previously, we relied wholly on the Department of Health and the department of
the environment, and they were not performing, so we managed to remove them
from the equation—or we certainly removed the Department of Health from the
equation. From 1 July last year, we took over that function, and we also
contract out. With the department of the environment, we only contract to them
about 10 to 11 per cent of our applications. We contract out everything else
and we contract out all of our efficacy work.
Another factor that has had an effect on performance has been
the commercial confidential information issue. Mr Jim Adams, Executive
Director, Veterinary Manufacturers and Distributors Association, explained the
effect on performance:
It has had a massive impact on registrations because all of
the category 6, 7 and 8 applications were up in the air for a period of time
from September 2014, which was when the APVMA made the decision that they may
be compromising commercial confidential information, through to June last year,
when the judge gave his decision. We believe that, even since then, the APVMA
is still not treating the issue in the way that the court intended. They have
issued a range of clarifications from time to time as to how they would handle
it, but it is still holding up applications and it is still stopping people
from putting applications in. People are still getting conflicting information
from officers within the APVMA as to what they do or do not need in order to
consider an item 6 application, for instance.
Risk mitigation and digital
Government Senators have been impressed at the way the APVMA
has approached the agency's planning for the move to Armidale. The committee
heard that a relocation advisory committee has been established which includes
stakeholders. It is to look at all issues in relation to the relocation. Mr Matthew
Cossey, CEO Croplife, indicated that despite concerns about being able to
mitigate the risks, in relation to the committee:
I am confident that they are looking to address all the
issues. Certainly the CEO, in her engagement with the committee and
stakeholders, has been comprehensive and open. I do not know that that could
Witnesses saw the digital strategy under development as
fundamental to making the relocation work. Mr Benjamin Stapley, Executive
Director, Animal Medicines Australia, told the committee of the current system
issues that the relocation will provide an opportunity to address:
...We hear it anecdotally and we understand, direct from the
APVMA, that they have systems. For example, the way that the information is
inputted by our applicants does not necessarily flow through the entire APVMA
system so that can require a series of double-handling attempts by the APVMA,
which are quite inefficient. The opportunity that exists is to undertake a
comprehensive rebuild of all their systems which would then allow increased
automation, which would minimise the amount of assessment on some of the
potentially lower risk type product applications which occur and potentially
also ease the transition as well. The digital strategy is fundamental to making
the relocation work. That sort of investment in a new digital strategy for the
APVMA would be something that the industry would support irrespective of the
Ms Arthy told the committee about the focus on business
I can [assure] the committee and others that business
continuity is a major focus for us in making sure that we are able to deliver
for the stakeholders and industry clients that we service. In addition to the
recruitment that is underway, we are also looking at a range of measures such
as fast-track training to make sure we can deliver with a less experienced
workforce and removing our regulatory and administrative burden to ensure that
our evaluators who are there are not distracted onto 'administrivia'. We have
also implemented a range of initiatives in line with the white paper and other
reform activities that we have been doing. Most recently, we have released our
approach on how we will use international data standards and assessments and we
have recently also released all the international guidelines that we will
accept. I am very proud of the focus of the staff. It is a difficult time for
them, and they are just getting on with business to make sure we provide access
to safe chemicals for Australian farmers and the community.
Ms Arthy clarified that contrary to media reports, officers
have not been forced to work from McDonalds in Armidale and that the APVMA is
working well with the local community:
We have been working really well with the local Armidale
community, with the council and with the university, and we have identified a
suitable office there. We will be making that announcement in the next couple
of weeks, but whenever we have gone up there there has only been a few of us.
We just go and work wherever we need to. Everything has been working very, very
well within the local community.
It should be noted that the date the APVMA is to start working
from Armidale is more than two years away. The digital strategy will preserve
capability whilst qualified staff are recruited and trained in Armidale.
Despite the negative media coverage, recruitment is proceeding well.
Government Senators note the department's recent recruitment
drive late last year after the order was made where over 200 applications were
APVMA informed the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee:
We have recently concluded a general
round that we initiated at the end of last year. That was very successful. We
have commenced a number of other recruitment strategies, including launching
more targeted and more aggressive recruitment targeting junior regulatory
scientists as well as more experienced people to come into the agency. We
continue to draw upon merit lists from other agencies to attract and encourage
people to come to the agency. To support recruitment, we are also developing,
and are near finalising, an accelerated program for regulatory scientists so
that the new people we bring in can go through a program of accelerated
learning about what is needed to be a regulatory scientist. That will enable
them to perform highly at the level that we need sooner.
The APVMA Chief Scientist is based in Armidale and recruitment
arrangements are being finalised for two new Armidale based staff.
In addition, recent recruits are joining in the knowledge that the agency will
relocate to Armidale in 2019.
In its submission, the APVMA outlined its workforce plan which
is based on six key assumptions:
- Staff willing to relocate to Armidale—Previous staff
surveys suggest only 10-15 per cent of current staff may consider relocating to
Armidale. Nevertheless, every effort will be made to encourage staff to move
with the agency to ensure there is a critical mass of experienced people in
- Digital solution—The APVMA can establish a digital
solution that will support a large proportion of regulatory scientists working
remotely from anywhere in Australia, working collaboratively and seamlessly
connected to the Armidale office.
- Remote working arrangements—The APVMA is able to manage
the human resource implications including work health and safety, performance
management, IT security and physical security of the remote working
- Local recruitment—The APVMA is able to source suitably
skilled people (particularly in the case management, administration and
corporate areas) from the Armidale region or attract new staff to Armidale.
- Use of contractors and outsourced arrangements—the APVMA
is able to secure services from appropriate sources to fill capability gaps.
In addition, the APVMA has described its plan to deploy 'an
attractive retention package' and 'relocation policy' which will include
'relocation assistance, salary bonuses and return flights to Canberra'.
Government senators are satisfied that the workforce plan in combination with
retention and relocation policies will provide the APVMA with a mix of
experienced and new staff for its move to Armidale.
Ms Alison Turner, who was the APVMA CEO from 1997 to 2003
provided her support for the move on the basis that recruitment may be easier
in a regional centre like Armidale:
As CEO [I] always found it really hard to recruit specialist
agricultural and veterinary staff in Canberra. If I managed to recruit good
staff, they were often poached by other commonwealth agencies[.] While I
understand the concerns of current staff, and the travel complexity for
industry and parliamentary relations, I do not think there will be a long term
problem moving there. I would imagine that the pay offered by the APVMA would
compare very favourably with other agencies in Armidale, so that growing a good
cohort of suitably qualified staff would occur in staff.
Mr Broomfield told the committee he is also confident that the
relocation of the APVMA will be a success:
I believe that the long-term projections are good, because I
think once people get used to the idea—and the APVMA especially are going
through a difficult period at this point in time. It is a big call to move a
family and relocate. I happen to have done that, and I have got some sympathies
for what they are going through. But I think, looking into the medium and long
term, more people will come to the regions, and Armidale with the APVMA, once
they start seeing the benefits of living there.
Mr Broomfield cited the example of the relocation of the NSW
Government Department of Agriculture from Sydney to Orange in the 1990, noting
...the outcomes are much, much more beneficial in the medium to
long term than perhaps people think and envisage when you are in the early
stages of the relocation.
The latest version of the business plan model looks at
opportunities for outsourcing some of the back-office functions.
Dr Jason Lutze, Acting Executive Director, Scientific Assessment and Chemical
Review at the APVMA spoke about the current successful use of external
providers in scientific and efficacy assessments as another tool to augment the
For a long time we have engaged external providers in our
scientific assessment areas. For instance, in the efficacy area they currently
undertake about 60 per cent our efficacy assessments. In environmental risk
assessment they undertake about 45 per cent or our assessments. We are looking
at measures to extend the capability and capacity of our external assessors.
For instance, in a residue, which is a fairly specialised area, we have not
traditionally used external providers. We are currently piloting an external
An integral element of the APVMA's relocation to Armidale is
the establishment of the Centre of Excellence in Agriculture and the creation
of the regulatory science course at the University of New England. This will be
the first course of its type offered in Australia. This course will provide a
ready workforce of specially trained graduates ready to enter employment with
the APVMA in Armidale. Ms Arthy expressed her support of the course and the
synergies it would help create:
We started talking to UNE back in 2015 as part of this. When
the Deputy Prime Minister wrote to me to ask for advice about whether we would
move to Toowoomba or Armidale, part of the brilliant thing that came out of it
when I was talking to all the different universities was the value in actually
getting a regulatory science course up.
At the moment I think we are talking about a module within a
bigger degree, which is terrific. But it is about introducing scientists to the
concepts of applying law and risk. It is a terrific idea, and one that we have
been working very closely with UNE on for quite a while. 
Government senators note that the relocation of the APVMA to
Armidale delivers on a Coalition election commitment to create Centres of
Excellence in Agriculture and 'delivers on the Coalition Government's
commitment to decentralise metropolitan–based agencies which have a regional
focus and provides some agricultural agencies with unprecedented engagement
with farmers, growers, scientists and research experts'.
As noted at the time by the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP, Deputy Prime Minister:
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 (RDC)
moved to Wagga Wagga, and the set-up of offices of the Grains Research and
Development Corporation (RDC) in Toowoomba and Dubbo.
Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan also spoke on decentralisation
I think it is very important here to point out that this is a
policy for all regional Australians that we are trying to achieve around the
country. So we are moving the Fisheries RDC [Research and Development Corporation]
to Adelaide. We are moving the Grains RDC offices to Toowoomba, to Dubbo, to
Perth and to Adelaide. We are in the process of moving a RIRDC [Rural
Industries Research and Development Corporation] office to Wagga Wagga. To all
of these towns, the Labor Party would like to deny the opportunity of having
government invest in their town. I think it is important—
A history of success—decentralising government to the regions
Decentralisation is not new and has previously included:
the New South Wales Nationals in government relocated the
Department of Agriculture to Orange in 1992;
the New South Wales Labor Government moved at least seven
agencies from Sydney to a regional centre between 2000 and 2005;
the Victorian Labor Government relocated the Transport Accident
Commission to Geelong in 2009, and has commenced relocating Worksafe Victoria
to Geelong; and
the Keating Labor Government moved the Australian Securities and
Investments Commission to Traralgon in the early 1990s.
Mr Reginald Kidd, Chair AgVet Chemicals Taskforce, National
Farmers Federation, told the committee in detail about the relocation of the
NSW Department of Agriculture to Orange from Sydney 25 years ago:
Senator McKENZIE: Was there a little consternation at the
Mr Kidd: Was there ever!
Senator McKENZIE: Can you talk us through that?
Mr Kidd: I think the best way of putting it is, '"We'll
all be damned," said Hanrahan.'
Senator McKENZIE: Right.
Mr Kidd: That was the attitude—that you would need snow
chains to get kids to school—
Senator McKENZIE: That is right—
Mr Kidd: and to move out of the area. Many of the staff said
that they were not going to relocate and that we would not be able to get staff
to replace them, and a whole host of other things that I completely understand.
Senator McKENZIE: So a quarter of a century later—success.
How is it all going there in Orange?
Mr Kidd: Well, as you know, that department is growing again
now with the realisation of just how important agriculture is to the Australian
economy. There is a number of new initiatives, and it is a super department
now. I think, in total, there are about 900 people, and—
Senator McKENZIE: Fantastic.
Mr Kidd: I think it would be fair to say that if you asked
any of them if they would move back to Sydney, you would have a riot in Orange
for the first time.
Government senators note that the movement of agricultural
agencies to regional locations will result in unprecedented engagement with
farmers, growers, scientists, research experts, business and the community in
general. Recent moves such as the Rural Industries Research and Development
Corporation (RIRDC) to Wagga (NSW) have been successful and met with support
from key industry stakeholders.
In its submission to the committee, the Northern Rivers Regional
Organisation of Councils highlighted a successful 2013 relocation of a major
state government agency in NSW:
An example of a successful relocation of a State Government
agency to a regional area is the NSW Government’s decision to move the Office
of Local Government to Nowra. This added more than $10 million per annum via
salaries of 60 staff to the Shoalhaven economy.
Mr Peter Hargreaves from City of Greater Bendigo outlined some
of the successful relocations to Bendigo in recent times:
We have been host to a number of successful relocations in
the public and the private sector. These include the Rural Finance Corporation
from Melbourne in 2005, with about 40 jobs, and the Melbourne-based State
Trustees established here in 2011, with about 100 jobs, 75 of which went to
local people. In the private sector, Hofmann Engineering of Perth established
their eastern operations in Bendigo in 2010, and they employ about 65 people in
the heavy engineering industry.
These relocations provided a number of flow-on economic
benefits and provided new families to Bendigo with the opportunity to
experience a regional lifestyle. We have other Bendigo companies demonstrating
every day that they can compete at a national level from a regional base. More
importantly, from a service point of view they are showing that being based in
a regional setting does not mean that they lose touch with their customers.
Those include Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, Australia's fifth-largest bank, which
pioneered the community bank model, and Keech Australia, which moved to Bendigo
in 1995 and employs 165 people.
Support for decentralisation
Government senators note that this policy of decentralisation
is well supported in regional communities and this is demonstrated by the
submissions received by the inquiry. Of the 199 submissions, the vast majority
supported decentralisation. This support has focused on the capacities that can
found in regional Australia, including highly skilled workforces and
infrastructure. Submissions and witnesses have highlighted the high quality
lifestyles that can be enjoyed in these locations including affordable housing
and work-life balance.
Government senators are disappointed that despite 56
submissions offering to host or urging regional hearings, the committee held
only one hearing in Townsville apart from the hearing in Canberra. Submissions
and witnesses were very clear on the need to hold more regional hearings for
this inquiry. More councils should have been given the chance to present their
cases to the committee and outline what they see as the strong case in favour
of decentralisation which would invigorate their regions.
The order and process
Government senators note the order was made validly under
established processes which included consultation. Mr David Williamson, Deputy
Secretary at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources pointed out that
the order gave effect to a specific commitment made during the 2016 federal
However, research from the Parliamentary Library indicates the order could be
applied to seventeen locations across regional Australia.
On 19 April 2017, the Minister for Regional Development Senator
the Hon Fiona Nash announced that the federal government would pursue a broader
decentralisation agenda. Minister Nash noted that 'departments will need to
indicate that they're suitable to move to the regions or justify why all or
part of their operation is unsuitable'.
The Finance Minister described the difference between the relocation of the
APVMA and the broader decentralisation agenda:
If I can make a distinction here, there
is a very important distinction. When it comes to the relocation of the
Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, that was an election
commitment we took to the last election. What we are proposing now is a more
structured process for assessment.
In the recent budget, the government announced the criteria
against which its policy will be assessed. These criteria are:
the supply of skills or policy connection between the potential host
regions and the operations of specific entities;
telecommunications capability, services and infrastructure
available to support the relocation of entities and accommodate their staff;
specialist staff retention and associated impacts on the specific
The Finance Minister explained at the recent Budget Estimates
how the decentralisation agenda will proceed:
Finance's role will be to design a robust business case
process and assess business cases for consideration by government. The
government will then of course consider both any proposal and the Finance
portfolio's assessment of any business cases being put forward.
Regional Australia—services and infrastructure
Location is no longer an impediment to conducting the business
of government with many regional communities having access to high speed
telecommunications. Longreach Regional Council described its services and
With regard to telecommunication services, we have
fibre-optic upload and download speeds that are faster than those in Brisbane
and the Gold Coast. This in turn closes any gaps for connecting to major
cities, online programs, meetings and conferences. Longreach has access to
microwave point-to-point connectivity for internet services through corporate
For travel, every day Longreach has flights to and from
Brisbane through QantasLink, and it also has flights twice a week from
Townsville and return, through Rex. There are daily bus services from Brisbane
to Mount Isa, with connecting services to the Northern Territory terminating at
Darwin. There are regular passenger rail services from Brisbane, and there is
capacity to increase rail freight through the region.
Councillor Jamie De Brenni of Alice Springs Town Council
explained that regional areas have a range of unique strengths and capacities.
Cr De Brenni highlighted the strong indigenous focus that the Alice Springs
region has, noting that there are over 260 indigenous communities in the
central Australian region.
Mr Gerard Jose, CEO of the Mildura Rural City Council told the committee about
the high level of diversity in his town which has over '76 diverse, different
Different regions have the capacity to inform government policy and programs in
an exciting and positive way.
A skilled resource living in the
One of the reasons that the government is pursuing a
decentralisation policy is to take advantage of the highly qualified people who
live in the regions. Many witnesses were keen to showcase the untapped skills and
experience that exist right across the country. The Bega Valley Shire Council
noted the high proportion of 'retired public servants' in its backyard,
whilst the President of NOROC, Councillor Danielle Mulholland observed:
It is just that we have a changing demographic in the
Northern Rivers. I have run into some incredibly smart people and people who
are eminently employable. I myself am a retired public servant; my husband is a
retired public servant. It is really unbelievable how many public servants we
have run into across the Northern Rivers. We have a lot of smart people and a
lot of educated people. We have Southern Cross University. We are only a couple
of hours from Brisbane and all the universities up there. I am currently
studying through QUT as an external student. So I think that we are offering a
lifestyle, but we also have skilled, professional people here who can fill
vacancies. I think it is misguided to assume that people who live in the
regions or in a rural community are living there because they cannot do
something. They are living there because they choose to do so; it is a
lifestyle choice, and, certainly, we have the lifestyle up here.
Mr Tony Broomfield, Project Officer from Armidale Regional
I think clever people like scientists are
already living in the regions...I know of a number at the University of New
England who are in world-class leading research based in Armidale and who are
living a fabulous lifestyle at the forefront of where it is happening.
Housing affordability and lifestyle
factors in the regions
Many submitters and witnesses noted that one of the benefits to
the policy of decentralisation is the access to affordable housing in regional
locations. The committee were provided with many examples of affordable housing
in the regions.
On notice, many regional councils told the committee about median house prices
in the regions such as $215 000 in Longreach
and $261 750 in the Greater Shepparton region.
The Mayor of Townsville, Councillor Jenny Hill informed the
committee that in Townsville 'you can buy a four-bedroom home on an
800-square-metre lot for $350 000, very close [to the waterfront]'.
Mr Tony Broomfield from Armidale Regional Council made the following
The median house price [in Armidale] is $320,000—a little bit
cheaper than Sydney and a little bit cheaper than Canberra, so that is a key
driver in the lifestyle that we enjoy. We do not have to live in apartments. We
can live in houses on good size blocks and the children can have a backyard to
Mr Broomfield emphasised the services available in regional
I tried to emphasise in my opening statement that Armidale is
not a back country little town. It has got a sophisticated education centre. It
has got fabulous health care. The hospital is currently going through a $60
million upgrade. We have got ample doctors and ample dentists. We have got
fabulous education with good job prospects as well.
Councillor Hill outlined her own family's attraction to the
lifestyle in a regional centre:
While my friends were driving an hour and a half to drop
their kids off and get to work, I was fortunate enough to have a day-care
centre across the road from where I worked at the laboratory. I would drop my
daughter off and go into work. The quality of life is second to none.
This relocation provides an opportunity to revisit and renew
processes to ensure an efficient and effective regulator into the future. The
record of poor performance over time, well before the relocation was announced,
indicates there are other issues within the organisation that are restricting
the timely and efficient processing of applications.
Government senators reject the recommendations of the majority
report to revoke the order and pause the move. Plans are progressing well, risk
mitigation strategies are being developed and importantly the digital strategy
will support the organisation not only with the move but to improve its
performance and se5rvice dle3ivery.
Recruitment and retention of staff has been an ongoing
challenge for the APVMA over many years. Government senators welcome support in
the majority report for the establishment of the regulatory science course at
the University of New England. Witnesses unanimously supported the establishment
of the regulatory science course at the University of New England. It will
provide a pipeline of graduates able to be employed by the APVMA.
The Finance Minister followed his obligations under the PGPA
Act in the making of the order. Government senators welcome that the broader
decentralisation agenda now underway will involve a set of criteria against which
proposals will be assessed as well as a business case process to be designed by
the Department of Finance.
Government senators welcome the select committee on regional
development and decentralisation has been established in the House of
Representatives. Particularly given the short shift, regional communities and
their industries have been given by through this inquiry.
Government senators recognise and appreciate the capacity,
entrepreneurial drive and resilience of regional communities. Their competitive
advantage for location of federal government departments is acknowledged, as is
the economic benefit that decentralisation brings.
Senator James Paterson Senator
Deputy Chair Senator
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