MONDAY, 29 FEBRUARY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Barnaby Joyce’s forced relocation of APVMA.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY: Thanks again for coming, Gai Brodtmann and I are here today to again express our concern for the up to 200 people who work in the building behind us who may or may not have a job in future months thanks to Barnaby Joyce’s ongoing determination to move the APVMA out of Canberra to his own electorate, to Armidale in his own electorate. This is a folly, it is the dumbest thought bubble I have seen in twenty years of political life. The building behind us is full of highly qualified professional people, who live in Canberra, who have kids in Canberra schools, who are not in a position to move to Armidale and Barnaby Joyce will not secure new professionals capable of doing this work in Armidale. So there are two aspects to this: one, this political stunt, absolutely driven by Barnaby Joyce’s own political interest, is a bad thing for Canberra because it is 200 jobs potentially out of Canberra; two, it is bad for the agriculture sector because it is absolutely necessary that we have an efficient, highly capable regulator dealing with farm chemicals and veterinarian products, products which are critical to efficiencies and our productivity in the ag sector. The chemical companies simply won’t be able to efficiently access the APVMA in Armidale, that is going to slow down the processors. We already know from the APVMA own reports that it has lost days for staff are on the rise, because frankly I suspect people are looking for new jobs already. We can’t afford to lose those scientists, agriculture can’t afford to lose them, and of course, Canberra can’t afford to lose them and I invite Gai to say something about the local impacts.
GAI BRODTMANN, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR DEFENCE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Thanks very much Joel. Well Sir Robert Menzies would be turning in his grave. It was Sir Robert Menzies who said he would build up Canberra as a capital in the eyes and minds of the Australian people and the Abbott - Turnbull Government has launched nothing but a sustained, a continued, attack on Canberra since it was elected in 2013. We have seen eight and a half thousand public servants go from Canberra already. Now we are potentially looking at 200 going from Canberra as a result of this Government’s continued contempt and disdain for Canberra. We saw what the Coalition Government did to Canberra in 1996. Back then they sacked 15,000 public servants here in Canberra and 30,000 nationally. That sent us into an economic slump that lasted for years, housing prices went down, people left town, businesses went under, local shops just closed down. We are seeing that sustained attack again and this decision by Barnaby Joyce to move 200 jobs from Canberra, highly skilled, highly professional jobs, to move them from Canberra to Armidale just underscores this Government’s, the Coalition Government’s complete contempt and disdain for Canberra, for the Public Service, for our servants of democracy.
FITZGIBBON: And can I say, Malcolm Turnbull who has come to this debate almost too late has now said, in a very, very weak response, that he will establish a cost benefit analysis of this move. Prime Minister, we don’t need an analysis to determine that this is a dumb move, which will be very bad for Canberra, and will be totally inefficient and costly for the agricultural sector. Prime Minister, you need to move in now and stop Barnaby Joyce from proceeding with what is going to be a disaster for Canberra and a disaster for the agriculture sector. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: What do you say, obviously there is going to be an impact on jobs here, what do you think about Barnaby Joyce’s comment that it will benefit the agriculture sector to have these services where the agriculture and farmers are, [inaudible] what do you think about that?
FITZGIBBON: There are two distinct issues here. The APVMA is a regulator which deals typically with multinational chemical companies trying to get their product into Australia. The APVMA needs to ensure that those drugs or chemicals can be used in a safe way, safer for Australians who ultimately consume the food involved. They also need to do that as quickly as possible and the most efficient way to do that is to make sure that the regulator is accessible to those chemical companies. It is accessible here in our national capital. It won’t be accessible in Armidale where there might be a flight a day, for example. On the other side, Research Development Corporations, despite their names - they don’t do research. They take hard earned levy payers money and they decide where the research should be done and then they contract that work out to researchers. The best place for them to be is central to the key leadership organisations like the NFF here in Canberra. They don’t do research, we don’t need them to be talking to the farmers and of course this is just another political stunt designed to give Barnaby Joyce a boost in the regions because he is misleading people into believing there are going to be a number of people involved here, there are not - there might be one or two people typically involved in his so called decentralisation plan but it will impact on the economy here in Canberra. It is a very, very unwise move.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to workers ? How are they feeling, the workers?
FITZGIBBON: Are you talking about the APVMA now?
JOURNALIST: Yes, sorry.
FITZGIBBON: Well, we’re reluctant to disclose conversations with professional people who feel that their jobs are at risk. I think I am in a position to tell you that there is very very great concern with the organisation and I think it’s fair to say that the most recent report was showing the processes slowing down because more people are taking days off, is a clear indication that people are not only very concerned but starting to think about future alternatives. Up to 90 per cent of the people who work in the building behind us are professional science types. People who aren’t easily replaced and even the most highly qualified people take years to settle into the very unique processes which happen here at the APVMA. If we lose those people it will be in the short to medium term impossible to replace them and that is very bad news for Australia’s agriculture sector.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned that Malcolm Turnbull is doing or has suggested a cost benefit analysis of the move. Barnaby Joyce also mentioned that there would be a merit based independent review of whether the APVMA should move. Have you heard anything more about that review and where it’s up to?
FITZGIBBON: No we haven’t heard any more about that, and it’s now two years since Barnaby Joyce first pulled this political stunt in his own political interest. So now we’ve got Barnaby Joyce saying he is insisting on proceeding, we’ve got Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, saying, oh we’ll do an economic analysis to make sure that it’s the right thing to do and now some independent review as well. We don’t need to do any of this, we just need to quickly fix this problem. Malcolm Turnbull needs to quickly fix this problem by saying look we had an idea, it’s a bit like GST really, but we realise now it was a dumb idea and we are going to backflip.
BRODTMANN: I mean imagine the uncertainty for these workers. These people, these high skilled people, here. As Joel said, for two years there’s been all this uncertainty around what their future is where they are going to be living. It puts a significant stress on them both personally and professionally. As Joel said, we’ve heard about the impact about that that’s had in terms of their morale and attendance at work. These are people’s lives that we are playing with here and it’s not just their lives, it’s their partners lives, it’s their children’s lives. It’s just absolutely appalling that this Government is using them as purely a political stunt. These are people with hopes, dreams and aspirations, mortgages, like everyone throughout Australia, and for them to be treated with such disdain and contempt, is absolutely abominable. The Prime Minister must put an end to this immediately.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks everyone, thanks for coming