SUBJECTS: APVMA relocation, Kareena Arthy resignation, decentralisation.


HOST: I spoke with Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon a little earlier and I asked him if he thought the APVMA should be moved to Armidale.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: It’s a very bad idea. I have this theory that Barnaby Joyce - when he had this thought bubble - didn’t even properly understand what the APVMA does as the regulator. We have seen the results. People have been jumping ship there for many months now. In fact the APVMA has now lost up to half of its workforce. Although its workforce numbers are growing because when it loses its most experienced scientists, regulatory scientists or regulatory lawyers they tend to be replaced with three people or when people go off on leave seeking another job they have to be replaced but remain in the job, this is very expensive. Kareena Arthy’s departure is somewhat devastating. The Authority was struggling a couple of years ago and she turned the ship around and has done a marvellous job. She is highly regarded and respected by the various industries that work with the APVMA. I fear that her departure will force another round of exits from the organisation.

HOST: So what do you see as driving this move?

FITZGIBBON: It’s pork barrelling. Barnaby Joyce struggles for votes in the second city in his electorate. He does very well in Tamworth but was having trouble in Armidale at the last election. This is purely a pork barrelling exercise designed to shore up his vote in Armidale. The great tragedy is the fact that he is the Agriculture Minister and the sector that is going to be most adversely affected by the demise of the APVMA are farmers.

HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, but yesterday we had a text from a Canberra resident saying that they live in Canberra and own property here and work in the public service and were for the decentralisation. Then citing there are economic impacts for the country of moving people out of Canberra. One, for every dollar they are paid, four dollars go into the economy. That’s reportedly from the Access Economics 2011 Report. Is there a need for conversation about any decentralisation?

FITZGIBBON: Your text correspondent I suggest would be very much in the minority if he or she lives in Canberra. Labor has been the real champion of decentralisation over the decades. It can work when the agencies are properly selected and there is a strategy and transition plan in place. But Barnaby Joyce’s APVMA relocation was just a thought bubble and not planned and we have seen the disastrous results. The Canberra model is an important one. The founding fathers - the colonial leaders at the time of Federation - they established Canberra as the centre of Government outside any of the other capital cities and it’s a model that has served us very well. There is a reason the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Cattle Council and all those other organisations are in Canberra.  It’s because it is the centre of Government and where business is done. Now the APVMA of course interacts with the multinational chemical manufacturing companies which seek registration and approval of products. They don’t interface with any farmers. There is no logic to moving them to Armidale. It’s about saving Barnaby Joyce’s bacon.

HOST: Are there any departments that you think could be moved to regional and rural parts of the country?

FITZGIBBON: Look there have been some good examples. Decentralisation works best at state level where you are pulling the agency away from the Capital city but still within an easy distance from the capital. Why should someone in Western Australia have to get a second plane to Armidale? That’s just senseless. Decentralisation? It was the Labor Party, I think it was the Hawke Government that established the big taxation office in our region in Newcastle. That’s closer to the point of consumption and closer to its customer. That can work if properly planned and well done, so I support that. You have to be strategic about it and Barnaby Joyce has absolutely picked the wrong horse trying to move such a critical agency away from the city where it is most likely to secure and maintain the workforce it needs.

HOST: Joel thanks very much for your time.

FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.

HOST: That was Joel Fitzgibbon the Labor spokesman for agriculture there speaking about those questions around decentralisation and what the implications of that could be. 

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