Federal Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon says the pesticides authority “will never have a home in Armidale”.
“Three admin staff in a Centrelink office does not make an APVMA,” the Hunter MP said while speaking from Armidale on Thursday.
The controversial government order to move the agency from Canberra to Armidale was pushed by former Deputy Prime Minister and Member for New England Barnaby Joyce.
Condemned as “blatant pork barrelling” by Labor from the get-go, the pesticides authority has been struck with historic lows in on-time product approvals while staff resignations have more than doubled.
Now, with Mr Joyce facing his own battles, is there anyone left to fight for the move?
Three admin staff in a Centrelink office does not make an APVMA.Joel Fitzgibbon
“It was a poorly thought out proposal, something that Barnaby Joyce hasn’t been able to progress simply because the key staff at the APVMA are highly qualified regulatory scientists and lawyers who have their spouses in Canberra, their children embedded in Canberra schools and can easily secure another job at a similar level,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“Already their most senior staff are now working for other agencies, for example Kareena Arthy, a very, very professional former CEO is now working for the ACT government – easily picked up another job.
“The workforce is just collapsing, about 30 per cent of it now gone.
“The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Authority or what’s left of it is still in Canberra and is likely to remain in Canberra.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the former National Party leader was gripping at straws, trying different models to help save the agency.
“Already we can see Barnaby Joyce now looking at other models – establishing an office in the Department of Agriculture, allowing people in Canberra to work from home with an IT system,” he said.
“What really concerns me is deregulating the regulatory regime and that is farming the work of the APVMA out to the private sector certified regulators.
“I think that’s a backward step in an area that goes to the heart of both our farm productivity and indeed human and animal health.
“I think farming the work of the APVMA out to others, and rolling out an IT system to allow people to work from home is Barnaby Joyce’s admission that it simply is not working and is not likely to work.”
Fairfax Media contacted the pesticides authority last week and they have declined to comment.