RELOCATING the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale would bring slow-moving, snail control options to a grinding halt, the Ricegrowers’ Association (RGA) has warned.
Last week, RGA executive director Andrew Bomm said his group was seeking to obtain access to new herbicide options which was already a lengthy process.
But that process could also stop if the APVMA was moved out of Canberra, as mooted by the Coalition’s decentralisation policy, he said.
“Like everyone we’re concerned about herbicide resistance and we’re also looking for some snail control options which have been unnecessarily delayed due to capacity issues or whatever else that may be going on within the APVMA,” he said.
“It’s absolutely important for us to get things done in a timely way but moving the agency out of Canberra would stop the formal approval of snail control options altogether.”
Mr Bomm said relocating the APVMA would also increase the cost of product registrations and diminish grower returns.
“Any time that you’re without an important technology that you could be utilising in your business it adds to the cost,” he said.
“If we need emergency use permits through the APVMA, to control something that comes out of nowhere, that’s not registered for the use in the way that we need, it can have huge implications for farmers’ bottom lines, if we don’t get access in a timely way.
“I would not want to put a number on the potential cost but we’ve had pest issues in the past that have impacted 5-10 per cent of the national crop which depending on the size of production, has about $300 million farm gate value per year.”
Push for relocation
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce has asked the APVMA to consider relocating its head office to Armidale in the NSW New England region or Toowoomba in southern Queensland as part of the Coalition’s decentralisation push.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation, Fisheries RDC and Rural Industries RDC (RIRDC) have also been pushed to explore relocation options to other regional centres, under the same policy initiative.
The APVMA said it was asked to provide a formal response to Mr Joyce on the proposed re-location by July which they have done and are now waiting his reply.
Mr Joyce told Fairfax Media last week his preference was for the APVMA to shift from Canberra to Armidale, about 800km away.
“Because you have to work with an authority at arm’s length, the process is I’ll be making further discussions and working out that process further,” he said.
NSW Northern Tablelands and National party MP Adam Marshall has already gained a $10,000 grant from the NSW government to bolster Armidale’s campaign to become the APVMA’s new home and made presentations to the agency’s staff on the town’s facilities and services.
Despite uncertainty from some groups about the outcome, it’s understood Mr Joyce has already written to the APVMA ordering a move to Armidale, which now requires further instructions from the Finance Minister.
That push is likely to invite a significant backlash from other farm lobby groups who’ve warned the relocation would cause significant loss of technical capacity at the APVMA; subsequently impacting farm-gate returns.
NFF against APVMA relocation
In June, the National Farmers Federation voted against the APVMA’s relocation at its members’ council meeting in Adelaide in raising concerns about long-term impacts on the agency’s 170 staff.
That workforce includes specialist regulatory scientists who would be difficult to replace, if they were forced to relocate.
The Community and Public Sector Union agreed with the NFF’s fears about the relocation impacts, with Deputy National President Rupert Evans saying his members had serious reservations about the proposal’s negative impact on essential services.
But Mr Joyce has repeatedly defended his government’s policy by arguing for the benefits of job creation in rural areas and the synergies of locating the various agencies in the agricultural communities and industries they serve.
He has also said a final decision on the relocation of identified agencies can be expected by the end of the year.
However, Mr Bomm said Ricegrowers didn’t want the APVMA moved into a regional centre, due to the loss of expertise in chemical registrations, vital to the industry’s productive capacity.
“The idea of decentralisation is a nice one in theory but when you have a regulatory agency with a lot of technical specialists; it’s hard enough to get people like that to Canberra, never mind Toowoomba or Armidale,” he said.
“I think decentralisation would halt the activity of the APVMA which is pretty important to us and would also be disastrous for the industry.
“We’ve had problems in the past with getting applications for permits and registrations through the APVMA in a timely way, and it would only become much, much worse, if you lost the regulatory expertise that already exists in Canberra.
“There seems to be absolutely no benefits of moving the agency in practical terms; apart from letting people know you like decentralisation.
“We’ve made it absolutely clear that we don’t want the APVMA to move.
“We’re highly dependent on the agency’s regulatory effectiveness, like most agricultural industries and I don’t know where this idea is supported.
“It’s not supported anywhere except unfortunately the minister’s office.”
Mr Bomm and RGA President Jeremy Morton visited Canberra last week to lobby key issues, including their views on the APVMA relocation.
Mr Bomm said he understood the decision to move the APVMA was currently in limbo and he was giving Mr Joyce the benefit of the doubt that it remained a matter open for discussion “and the right decision will be made”.
“I think the minister has heard loud and clear the message from our industry and others that we don’t want the APVMA to move and I trust that’s the decision that will be made,” he said.
“We are still waiting on a decision like we are with other decentralisation decisions.
“There’s a proposal on the table to move the RIRDC and we don’t know exactly where that’s going to be just yet.
“But we’ve made a pragmatic decision that we’d prefer, if the RIRDC does need to be relocated then it must be Wagga, rather than somewhere else, due to the synergies for our industry.
“We’d like to see it in Wagga but by no means are we prepared to have levy payers pay for a move that we haven’t asked for.”
The relocation issue has also been hotly debated and examined during recent Senate budget estimates hearings which will be held again this week in Canberra.
Total cost of relocating the four agencies has been estimated at over $40m.
Animal Medicines Australia CEO Duncan Bremner has also warned that farmers’ access to new chemical and medicine products – which already face lengthy approvals processes to be commercially available for industry’s use – would be further delayed by the APVMA’s relocation.
“It would also create ultimately a disincentive to investment by the international companies, and you have to remember that we operate in a global context - already they look at Australia as being a rather difficult market to work in anyway,” he told ABC Radio.