THE Federal Senate has agreed to investigate the Turnbull government’s policy order to relocate corporate Commonwealth entities with agricultural policy or regulatory responsibilities out of Canberra or any other capital city.
It will focus on the government’s controversial move to shift the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale in Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce’s New England electorate.
A statement from Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon today said the inquiry would focus on the process leading up to the order being made and policy impacts on affected entities, to perform their functions.
“This will include the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee investigating what will be the economic, environmental and capability implications of the policy order,” he said.
“Particularly, how the application of this policy will impact the relocation of the APVMA to Barnaby Joyce’s own electorate of New England.
“This inquiry will be the first detailed look at how the APVMA will perform its functions and any consequent risks to: human and animal health; productivity and profitability to the agriculture and fisheries sectors; chemical industries; and Australia’s trading reputation.”
Mr Joyce’s office has been contacted for comment.
The move to shift the APVMA into Armidale to co-locate with the University of New England to set up an agricultural centre of excellence, has been opposed by CropLife Australia, the National Farmers' Federation, Animal Medicines Australia and other groups.
They’ve also raised warnings about the large loss of chemical regulatory staff for ag-vet chemical approvals; especially for issuing emergency response permits to tackle biosecurity outbreaks.
The NFF declined to comment on today’s announcement of an inquiry into the relocation agenda.
Victorian Greens Senator and agricultural spokesperson Janet Rice said the decision to “uproot” the lives of APVMA staff and their families to Mr Joyce’s electorate “looks and smells a lot like pork barrelling”.
She said it was important this issue was publicly and transparently examined at a Senate inquiry.
“It is high time the process, decisions and impacts of this policy order were brought out into the sunshine,” she said.
Mr Fitzgibbon told media today the move of the APVMA to Armidale was “one of the most audacious pork barrelling exercises I have seen in this place in two decades”.
“Barnaby Joyce has now launched a full scale attack on the farming sector,” he said.
“The relocation of the APVMA is already destroying its capacity, it’s going to (have) enormous impact on farm productivity and is going to have an impact potentially on human health.
“It’s a disaster.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said a quarterly report of the APVMA released yesterday showed the farm chemical regulator’s approvals were “well down”.
He said one in four applications were not getting through the Authority because “yesterday we also learned that 100 staff have been lost from the APVMA since Barnaby Joyce announced his intention to relocate the Authority”.
“Nearly half of the Authority’s workforce has already left because they are unprepared to move to Armidale, he said.
“This is a disgrace and is putting Barnaby Joyce’s political interests ahead of the interests of Australia’s farmers and the interests of human health in this country and indeed Australia’s agriculture exports,” he said.