SUBJECTS: White Spot outbreak, Nationals decentralisation plan, APVMA relocation.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Well it just took no less than ten LNP and National Party Members to launch a website. This is Barnaby Joyce’s decentralisation plan. This is what the relocation of the APVMA to Barnaby Joyce’s own electorate has come to. Barnaby Joyce and I agree on one thing, the best form of defence is attack. But the problem is Barnaby didn’t bring a weapon to his press conference today he brought a wet lettuce. He had nothing to say, this press conference is not about decentralisation, it’s about the LNP in Queensland which is of course is fracturing, and it’s about LNP seats in the coming Queensland State election and more importantly it’s about LNP seats in the coming Federal election. Barnaby Joyce and his team are on the run and they proved it today bringing you all together to say nothing. He avoided the hard questions with no mention of White Spot in imported prawns. A big issue in Senate Estimates yesterday where we learned this is a crisis and of course it’s a controversy because on this Minister’s watch we have had one of the most serious breaches of biosecurity in decades yet he has nothing to say about it when he fronts up to you here today. More importantly, he avoided the hard questions on the APVMA. We had confirmed in Senate Estimates yesterday that the APVMA too is in crisis. This is bad news for our farm sector, is bad news for exports and is bad news for every pet owner in this country and of course it’s bad news potentially for any consumer who enjoys fresh food that has been sprayed with a chemical in the period of growth. Barnaby Joyce needs to start putting his own electoral interests aside and put this APVMA relocation aside, to run up the white flag and say, I got this wrong, the cost benefit analysis clearly shows this is a mistake and clearly shows this is a waste of taxpayers’ money and I am rolling over and I accept that now and I am dumping the idea of relocating the APVMA. That’s what he needs to do for the farming community and that’s what he needs to do for Australian consumers and that’s what he needs to do for Australian exports.
JOURNALIST: Are there benefits in the long term for Armidale though? I mean if the APVMA does eventually manage to recruit all this staff, are there not benefits for the community?
FITZGIBBON: Moving the APVMA to Armidale can do no harm to Armidale, I accept that. But there is only one APVMA and Barnaby Joyce would have you believe that he has a plan to bolster economic growth in every regional community in the country. He has of course, in what I think is almost a contempt of the Parliament, tried to sabotage the Senate Inquiry into the relocation of the APVMA by making it about a question about decentralisation. It is not that. It is about the impact of the move of the APVMA and the consequences of that for farmers.
JOURNALIST: Is there a positive way of doing this relocation? Could it have been handled in a better way?
FITZGIBBON: I don’t think that Barnaby Joyce actually understands what the Authority does? He keeps talking about research and relationships with universities. By the way, the relationship with UNE is so good that they are camping in McDonalds. Barnaby Joyce said they would be located in UNE, but they are in McDonalds. The APVMA does no research as such. They analyse data provided to them by the big multinational companies. So, he doesn’t understand what it does, on that basis, I don’t think he fully comprehended the consequence of gutting the APVMA, an organisation that has lost half of its staff. In some areas of expertise, 50 per cent of the people have walked out of the building. Now he is going to have some sort of cyber space experiment where people will be working from their homes here in Canberra. Well that’s hardly going to bolster the economy of Armidale. In fact it’s not going to bolster the economy of Armidale. He can’t bed down an enterprise agreement with the staff in his department. He is in effect at war with the staff in his department. No wonder the morale is so low. But he can give a 15 per cent pay increase to those who work at the APVMA to coerce them to move to Armidale. Sadly, even that is not working. Kareena Arthy said yesterday she is on a global search for people with the expertise the APVMA needs and she’s not having any success. Check your websites, the equivalent authority in the US is in Washington, in the UK it is in London, in New Zealand it is in Wellington, in Canada it is in Ottawa. There is a reason these authorities are in a capital city. Close to the Parliament, close to the legislature, close to the multinational companies who are their customers. Farmers don’t interrelate or have any interface with the APVMA. None whatsoever. There is no relationship but they do rely on the APVMA very desperately. If the APVMA continues to fall over, they won’t get their chemical sprays and their animal medicines in a timely way and even worse, if a chemical spray sneaks through the system because the Authority simply can’t handle the casework, then that can have serious consequences for human health.
JOURNALIST: What about the situation with regional jobs? Isn’t the principle of shifting public servants into regional areas a good thing?
FITZGIBBON: Decentralisation has rarely worked. Where it has worked, it’s worked at the State level best. Where it has worked it has been successful because people have spent a long time developing a strategic plan and a transition. Barnaby Joyce has no strategic plan for the APVMA. It was a thought bubble. A thought bubble to shore him up in Armidale where Tony Windsor constantly defeats him at the ballot box. This is not a plan for decentralisation, this is a plan to get Barnaby Joyce re-elected.