Agriculture Minister Murray Watt says the Federal Government is taking “firm action” to ensure the integrity of Australia’s agricultural and veterinary chemicals regulation system, following the release of a report detailing serious allegations concerning the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).
Senator Watt said the APVMA Board commissioned an independent review into the operations of the APVMA at his request.
The review was conducted by law firm Clayton Utz, with its report released by the Minister to the public toda
Senator Watt said the independent review found “serious and systemic issues with the regulator’s operations, conduct and governance”.
Matters identified were very serious and pointed to systemic problems with the administration and governance of the APVMA he said.
“Concerningly, the review found serious allegations of chemical industry capture of the APVMA, which appears to have played a key role in the organisation not performing its full regulatory responsibilities.”
He said the review was also critical of a former Coalition Government decision to move the regulator to Armidale, saying the move resulted in a loss of corporate knowledge, a loss of corporate culture and a loss of experience and knowledge of public sector values.
Senator Watt said the Government’s first course of action will be a rapid evaluation of the APVMA’s structure and governance.
“This will be conducted by eminent former public servant Mr Ken Matthews AO.”
The report from the rapid evaluation will be provided to the Minister by 30 September 2023 and will include recommendations on the future governance, structure and funding arrangements of the APVMA.
Importantly, the independent review concluded that the material it had reviewed ‘does not indicate any instances where agvet chemical products have been registered inappropriately’.
However, the review also found that the APVMA has ‘prioritised regulatory performance in relation to registrations, assessments and approvals over regulatory performance in relation to monitoring, compliance and enforcement’.
In addition, the review found that the APVMVA was reluctant to pursue prosecutions and other enforcement measures for serious breaches, stating that the agency had ‘a clear preference for enforcement by way of education and engagement over infringement notices, enforceable undertakings, civil proceedings and prosecutions’.
“This has resulted in the review of a number of chemicals that are already on the market taking far longer than statutory timeframes,” Minister Watt said.
“I have therefore issued the APVMA with a ministerial direction for finalising – as soon as possible – reviews of eight chemicals, which have each been ongoing for more than 17 years.
“This action has never been taken by an Australian Agriculture Minister before.
“In doing so, I have conveyed to the APVMA Board and Executive the need for swift action.
“We cannot continue to have reviews of chemicals drag on for decades – this is not good regulatory practice.
“In the interests of transparency, the report is now publicly available, while preserving the identities of individuals and companies who are the subject of allegations.
“Based on this review, I am confident of the safety of Australian food and fibre.
“However, we need the best possible regulatory systems, to provide Australian farmers, the community and trading partners with confidence and trust in their regulatory bodies.
“I am certain these actions will convey to all Australians just how seriously we are taking this situation.”
Senator Watt said both the CEO of the APVMA and Board Chair had tendered their resignations from their respective roles in recent days.
“Acting arrangements are in place while a nationwide search will be conducted for their long-term replacements”.
APVMA report exposes Labor’s hypocrisy
Leader of The Nationals David Littleproud has accused Labor of “breathtaking hypocrisy” after a report into the governance of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) was released.
Mr Littleproud said the former Coalition Government passed a Bill for a governance board through the House of Representatives on December 3, 2019, but Labor refused to support it in the Senate for almost two years.
“Labor is now complaining about a lack of governance into the APVMA from 2019 to 2022, despite originally being opposed to a board that would have provided governance to the APVMA,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The former Coalition Government fought for a governance board four years ago but Labor refused to get behind the idea. Their hypocrisy is shameful.”
It comes after Labor said the APVMA Strategic Review Report had found serious and systematic issues within the APVMA between the years of 2019 and 2022, which was the time the former Coalition Government was trying to make improvements.
Mr Littleproud added Agriculture Minister Murray Watt’s claims that moving the APVMA from Canberra to Armidale was problematic, was incorrect.
“The APVMA’s performance in approval times actually improved once it moved to Armidale, not declined, as Minister Watt stated.”
Sources: Minister for Agriculture, Nationals Leader