SUBJECT/S: APVMA relocation, Murray Darling Basin Plan.


JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: We are here to talk about Barnaby Joyce’s decision - or confirmation of his announcement - that he will relocate the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to his own electorate. I am very pleased to be joined by Gai Brodtmann, the Member for Canberra who of course her constituents are key stakeholders in this debacle, Ben Stapley, Ben is with Animal Medicines Australia. They will be dramatically affected by the relocation. Melanie Latter is from the Australian Veterinary Association and of course last but not least, my very good friend, John Kerin. Undoubtedly he is one of the more respected Agriculture Ministers this country has ever had - if not the most respected and John is actually the real father of the APVMA. It was John who was the Minister in the early 1990s who finally convinced the states to come together under one law and one uniform regulation of our chemicals and veterinary products -  under one authority, the APVMA. Barnaby Joyce’s confirmation on Friday he is insisting and is determined to progress his relocation is very bad news for the farming sector, is very bad news for our chemical companies who provide crop protection etcetera for our farmers and all those who rely on veterinary medicines, including farmers and those who manufacture and administer them, etcetera. It is bad news for Australian exports and is bad news for Australian manufacturing jobs; the list goes on and on. The biggest issue here is of course workforce. The APVMA’s almost 200 staff is made up mainly of regulatory lawyers and scientists and people who require training well beyond their undergrads in this specific area of expertise.
Only 10 per cent of them have indicated they are prepared to move to Armidale. The Government’s own cost benefit analysis, which they had to be dragged screaming to release after many months, indicates itself that this is going to bad for agriculture. In fact they suggest a one year delay in the regulatory process will cost the agriculture sector almost $200 million every year here on. We have big aspirations here in Australian agriculture, to export to the world. A recent report suggested the work of the APVMA underpins $18 billion of food exports from this country every year. Of course when someone wants to export, say berries from China for example, they are required to demonstrate to our trading partners that the food is safe. The APVMA plays a critical role in that as well. Without the APVMA working efficiently and effectively, our exports will be undermined.
My friends aren’t here to necessarily to say something but are very happy to answer any questions you might have. I particularly welcome again an opportunity for John to have something to say if you’d like him to.

JOURNALIST: Perhaps if you might be able to expand on what this is going to mean for your particular organisations?

BEN STAPLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ANIMAL MEDICINES AUSTRALIA: Animal Medicines Australia is particularly concerned about the impact this will have on the capacity of the APVMA to continue to be able to function as an effective regulator. The capacity to be able to deliver a world class regulatory scheme under circumstances, where we know that the vast majority of the regulatory scientists that currently work there have indicated they don’t have any willingness to go to a new regional location, really undermines the capacity for them to deliver timely, periodic, effective high quality assessments. What that means for not only agriculture, but also the medicines we rely on the health and welfare of dogs and cats is really significant. We are very concerned that a move at this point in time is going to have a very serious impact on those assessments being able to be conducted.

GAI BRODTMANN, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: It is a pleasure to be here with John Kerin who has made a significant contribution to Australian agriculture over decades. This order that was released on Friday reeks to high heaven. It is blatant and is shameless pork barrelling and it is pork barrelling that means 175 Canberra families have to be uprooted from their lives here in Canberra and uproot their kids in school. The kids have to leave school; their partners have to leave their jobs. They have been uprooted for the benefit of one person and one person alone and that is the Deputy Prime Minister. This is absolutely outrageous and is a shameless example of pork barrelling that is going to affect 175 Canberra families. Those people who are losing their jobs, their partners and their kids who are in schools and universities. I call on the Prime Minister to reverse this absolutely outrageous decision that was announced on Friday.

JOURNALIST: Perhaps Mr Kerin you could provide some comments or your thoughts here?

HON JOHN KERIN AM: Before the APVMA came up, each state did its own chemical and veterinary medicine registration and this was very expensive and was costly to the farm sector and the delays were quite enormous. I persuaded all the states there was as much variation within a state such as Western Australia and Queensland as between the states. All the states agreed except Queensland of course because Queensland then under Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the Nationals were agreeing to nothing. When the Government changed in 1989 we put the whole thing into place and it came into being in 1992. The arguments being used to justify it going to Armidale are frankly idiotic because a function is far more important than location. The function of this body will be in peril for at least two or three years if this goes ahead. It’s just nonsense.

JOURNALIST: Just on the function aspect of it, not only is there reluctance amongst staff to move there but it also disjoins the agency from others in Canberra. Can you expand on what the flow on impacts might be from taking it away from the rest of the bureaucracy?

KERIN: Well you see the building is at Symonston, there is the laboratory and there are other laboratories in other parts of the country. The CSIRO is here and many other agriculture research functions are here as well. This is an area that is surrounded by farms. The ACT has farms and properties within it. To put up these arguments that it might give you a nice warm feeling, is just nonsense. Canberra is in the centre of a vast agricultural region. The specialist skills of the people in this organisation are toxicologists and they are rare people and their function means they are examining what comes from the big manufacturers  overseas, mainly in the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere has particular characteristics so this is what has to be looked at. It is just terribly important this is going to be put at risk.

FITZGIBBON: Can I just make a point on this? The APVMA does not interact with farmers. They interact with the major chemical companies that make the veterinary medicines and crop protection and like products. There is no need to be talking to farmers. The second point is that Barnaby Joyce tries to argue that it needs to be near a university and just happens to be one of his universities. The APVMA doesn’t do research as such. It’s the chemical companies that do the R and D and innovate and turn those ideas into chemical products. The APVMA just analyses the data and provides data - and they provide data to the APVMA so the APVMA can satisfy itself that these chemicals can be sprayed on food for example and they are not going to threaten human health. There is no link to the APVMA and research at a particular university. This is just another example of the spin Barnaby Joyce rolls out to justify his pork barrelling and to justify his boondoggles.

JOURNALIST: The Government and Barnaby Joyce would argue this is part of decentralisation of these organisations. Is there not an argument there will be short term pain for potentially long-term gain for a regional community be it in his electorate or other?

FITZGIBBON: Like John, I have been involved in the decentralisation debate for all of my political life. I have seen it work where it has been well planned and makes sense, is logical and has the support of key stakeholders. There is no long-term planning here and has been no homework done. It was a thought bubble by Barnaby Joyce when he thought he was going to lose his seat to Tony Windsor. That’s what this was really all about and of course Canberra is not exactly Sydney or Melbourne. John has made the point that not only does the APVMA interact with other agencies here but there are farms encircling Canberra. We are not that remote from our farmers here. The other point I would make of course is Barnaby Joyce is trying to argue the case somehow that this is going to generate lots of jobs in Armidale. Undoubtedly it will create a few jobs in Armidale, but the cost benefit analysis shows the community wide or nationwide economic effects are negligible. There is no case for moving this agency, other than the case to re-elect Barnaby Joyce.

JOURNALIST: Mr Fitzgibbon, if I could just ask you on another subject, we have been hearing a lot about the Murray Darling Basin Plan the last week or so. As the alternative Agriculture Minister, what are your thoughts on how this should proceed from here?

FITZGIBBON: Thankfully we have had a bipartisan approach to the Murray Darling Basin Plan for many years now. If we want long-term, sustainable profitability in the agriculture sector, we have to have a sustainable Murray Darling Basin and reform has been hard, but we have secured reform and we have secured reform because we have had a bipartisan approach. Now we have Barnaby Joyce, on a frolic of his own, again, trying to collect himself populism and some votes in certain regions by completely departing and walking away from that bipartisan approach. The day bipartisanship breaks down on the Murray Darling Basin, is the day we should all start growing very concerned about the future of that basin.

JOURNALIST: Here’s what his comments have referred to - reflect what New South Wales and Victorian Governments are also concerned about that extra water can’t be delivered to South Australia without socioeconomic impacts on communities in those two states. How should we proceed now with South Australia demanding the full quota of water?

FITZGIBBON: Co-operatively. Barnaby Joyce’s letter was another example of him just simply being a bully and another example of him leaving the hymn sheet of his own government. If he truly believes we need to revisit some aspect of the 450gig, then he should talk to his cabinet, talk to his Prime Minister, talk to the state ministers and talk to the key stakeholders and start the discussion in a cooperative manner and not go off on a frolic of his own and bullying style letter to state ministers. This is typical of Barnaby Joyce. He represents the biggest threat to the sustainable profitability in the agriculture sector in decades. Think about it - the backpacker tax, APVMA relocation, Murray Darling Basin Plan, he’s ready to tear it up – sack a departmental secretary when he challenges you on your integrity. Barnaby Joyce is a threat to Australian Agriculture and the quicker Malcolm Turnbull pulls him into line, the better the agriculture sector will be and the better the Australian economy will be.

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