The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt has released a damning review of the regulation of agricultural chemicals under the previous federal government.
A review into the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) by law firm Clayton Utz found serious and systemic issues with the operations, conduct and governance of the authority.
Worrying for industry – as well as Australia’s trading partners, agricultural users and consumers – was a lack of integrity in overseeing the process of reviewing the usage of agricultural chemicals.
While the independent review found that evidence ‘does not indicate any instances where agvet chemical products have been registered inappropriately’.
It did find that numerous chemicals were still under review after a period of more than 17 years.
Watt 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.”
Both the CEO of the APVMA and Board Chair have tendered their resignations from their respective roles.
The review concluded that the APVMA has ‘prioritised regulatory performance in relation to registrations, assessments and approvals over regulatory performance in relation to monitoring, compliance and enforcement’.
It 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’.
Watt said: “This has resulted in the review of a number of chemicals that are already on the market taking far longer than statutory timeframes.
“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.
“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.”
The review pointed to serious issues with the workings of the authority since moving to Armidale in New South Wales at the behest of Nationals member Barnaby Joyce.
Over the past five years staff have laid serious complaints against the authority every six weeks.
The review pointed to the fact that only 15 of 140 stayed with the authority when it moved from Canberra, leading to a loss of corporate knowledge and experience.
Watt said: “The review points of the decision made by former agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce to relocate the APVMA to Armadale as one of the key factors behind the demise of good governance at the institution.”
However, Watt said he was 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.”
Picture: Senator Murray Watt