Regardless of your opinion on the decision to move the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale, one thing is certain, the current output and efficiencies from the authority must be rapidly and radically improved.
The APVMA is falling short of its statutory time-frames for crop protection registrations. Recent figures show only 30 per cent of work reached completion – down from 82 per cent for the September 2016 quarter. The worst timeframe performance statistics in the history of the APVMA.
Capacity and expertise is currently a major concern. The reluctance of federal public servants to leave Canberra has seen almost one quarter of the APVMA’s workforce resign between July 2016 and February 2017, with long term CEO Kareena Arthy also resigning in April 2017.
A recent report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) that found significant weaknesses in how the APVMA has implemented the government’s 2014 agricultural and veterinary (agvet) chemical legislative reforms, highlights the serious failure of the reform processes to deliver real regulatory efficiencies and confirms industry’s long-standing call that urgent action is needed.
One critical area of the APVMA’s work that has almost come to a complete standstill is the approval of minor use permits. In a small agrochemical market such as Australia – Australian agriculture is worth only one tenth of the United States agricultural sector – minor use chemical products are essential. They enable industry to lodge applications for often innovative and progressive chemicals with economic and environmental benefits over the existing offerings.
The importance of having a proficient and capable agvet chemical regulator is paramount to the success and viability of the entire agricultural sector. It is estimated that up to $17.6 billion of Australian agricultural output is attributable to the use of crop protection products, or up to 68 per cent of the total value of crop production.
Urgent action by government needs to be taken to address the current state of affairs. The business practices, systems, risk management and governance arrangements employed by the authority must be addressed. The Queensland Farmers’ Federation’s (QFF) intensive agricultural industry members have a have a lot to lose and gain ensuring we have a robust and productive chemical regulator.
One immediate step government could take is to allow the APVMA to use comparable international datasets in assessing permits and registrations. This will increase efficiencies within the approval process and improve timeframes.
Importantly, any changes must be supported by adequate investment and resourcing. Without this, the APVMA will not deliver tangible improvements to the regulation of agricultural chemicals, and the hundreds of millions of dollars lost to regulatory inefficiency every year will continue and worsen into the future.
The Armidale move must now be seen as an opportunity to ‘reset’ the APVMA. The Deputy Prime Minister has claimed that with new leadership and a new home, the government has a genuine opportunity to build an efficient and effective regulator of the future.
QFF welcomes these comments and will be holding the government to account on this – the sector cannot afford anything less.