Littleproud must release the cost of the APVMA digital strategy

Minister Littleproud must release costings for the digital strategy that is so critical to the forced relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to Barnaby Joyce’s electorate.

At recent House of Representatives Standing Committee of Agriculture and Water Resources public hearings Barnaby Joyce’s handpicked CEO, Dr Parker confirmed that “at the moment, the digital strategy has been finalised. There is a range of options in that digital strategy that have been put to government, and they're forming part of the government's normal budget process”.

Industry, farmers and taxpayers deserve to know how much the forced pork barrel relocation will actually cost and when the additional funding will be provided to the APVMA.

The lack of information about the true cost of the forced relocation is extremely concerning and compounded by the fact simple, straight forward questioning about staffing numbers and the digital strategy drew answers which can only be described as uncooperative and evasive at best.

Mr FITZGIBBON: Can I just ask Dr Parker a straight bat question on staffing levels. What were the staffing levels at the APVMA on 1 July 2016 and what is the current staffing level? I've had a look at the proposed organisational model, so I assume you know what your target staffing level is. I think I read somewhere, Dr Parker, that you were expecting 150 staff to be in Armidale by 2019. So my questions are: what was it, where is it now, and what is your target? How many of them will be in Armidale, how many will be in Canberra, how many will be working at home and how many will be sitting in the department? Then you might care to make some comment on your digital strategy, because I'm a bit confused about whether there is a connection between the digital strategy and the relocation

Dr Parker: Total FTE in February 2018—that is, now—is 204.09. What was the other date you were after?

Mr FITZGIBBON: July 2016.

Dr Parker: We don't have July.

Mr FITZGIBBON: Well, approximately. I'm not going to be shy about it; I'm choosing that date because it's just pre the announcement on Armidale.

Dr Parker: Let's say the October 2016 figure.

Mr FITZGIBBON: That's a bit late. Do you have anything else earlier than that—something pre the announcement?

Dr Parker: Would May be okay?

Mr FITZGIBBON: May 2016? Yes.

Dr Parker: The total FTE at that time was 182. That's what was sitting in the books.

Mr FITZGIBBON: And your objective for 2019?

Dr Parker: I think, as you know from reading the business model, it's going to remain a bit flexible. Some of the business model relies on the work we're doing at the moment with staff around who wants to move, but I would anticipate the organisation would have about 150.

Mr FITZGIBBON: Didn't you say 150 in Armidale previously?

Dr Parker: I said 150. It's what you asked; the question was about Armidale.

Mr FITZGIBBON: I thought I saw a speech from you suggesting there would be 150 in Armidale.

Dr Parker: That's what I would say.

Dr Parker eventually admitted that some staff will work from Canberra

Dr Parker: There could be some here or—

Mr FITZGIBBON: That's a nice clarification.

Mr FITZGIBBON: Not in an office; home's all right?

Dr Parker: Well, that's part of the working strategy.

We know the digital strategy has been finalised and is sitting with the Turnbull Government.

We know the digital strategy cost will be in addition to the $25.6 million allocated to the former Agriculture Minister’s pork barrel. We know that the former APVMA CEO wrote to Barnaby Joyce in November 2016 seeking additional funding for the digital strategy to combat the exodus of highly qualified regulatory scientists due to the forced relocation.

We know Barnaby Joyce wrote to Minister Cormann on 23 November 2016 seeking agreement to additional funding for the digital strategy. We know without the rebuilt IT system the APVMA will not be able to function in Armidale.

This very real risk was confirmed once again by Ms Fox, Deputy CEO of the APVMA at the recent hearing.

Ms KEAY: So you need additional funds to implement that strategy?

Dr Parker: Yes, we do.

Ms KEAY: Okay.

Ms Fox: I can take you through the high risks if that's helpful to you. The first high risk we have is inability to retain staff in critical business roles, which I think we've talked about here already today. We also have shared service or outsourcing arrangements failing to provide the satisfactory service levels that we're expecting. We have the inability for us, the APVMA, to maintain and grow capability in the medium term.

Ms KEAY: Why would growing capability be there?

Ms Fox: It is if we are not successful, for example, in recruiting staff between now and when we relocate to Armidale. That's why we have that as a risk in there. I might also add that we're not seeing that at the moment, but we do have it identified. 

Ms KEAY: Would that risk be there if you were based in Canberra?

Ms Fox: These are risks related to the relocation only.

Ms KEAY: Yes, I'm just saying: would it be as high a risk?

Ms Fox: It wouldn't be as high a risk, I would expect. We also have a risk of the transition and relocation to Armidale being unable to occur. That's obviously a risk for us. And, as Dr Parker was just talking about, there is the inability to deliver e-working through IT environments.

Minister Littleproud must step up and start to deliver genuine and honest answers.


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