THE embattled Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) will be on the hunt for a new CEO to accompany its controversial move from Canberra to Armidale after Kareena Arthy today announced she was quitting.
APVMA staff members are already leaving the national farm chemical regulator in large numbers amid the controversial decentralisation move into the northern NSW New England electorate of Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce.
Mr Joyce defended the APVMA relocation yesterday saying it was going ahead, given it was a decision of the federal cabinet – despite industry opposition and repeated accusations of pork barrelling by the federal Opposition.
APVMA staff members were told today of Ms Arthy’s resignation as CEO after four years in the role, where the regulator’s mediocre performance in approving new ag-vet chemicals for the Australian market has come under continued criticisms.
A statement said Ms Arthy’s resignation was also notified to stakeholders and will be effective from May 31 this year.
She will be taking up a new opportunity working in the ACT government responsible for the functions of Enterprise Canberra.
“I am proud of my achievements as CEO and take great pride in the Agency that we have built,” she said.
“Together we have built a strong Agency that is future focussed, values integrity and provides confidence to farmers, vets and the community that agricultural and veterinary chemicals are safe and effective to use.
“I’m leaving at a time when the main elements for the relocation to Armidale are in place.
“It is the right time for a new CEO to be appointed who can lead the APVMA into its next phase in Armidale.”
Last week at the first hearing of the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee’s inquiry into the Coalition’s decentralisation policy, Ms Arthy was non-committal about her future, when asked if she’d be shifting from Canberra to northern NSW.
“That is a private matter which is not something that I am willing to comment on,” she said.
“The CEO position will be located in Armidale, yes.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said Ms Arthy's decision to leave the organisation was a “huge blow” to existing staff, ag-vet companies, farmers and “for all those who rely on its regulatory work”.
He said “Ms Arthy is highly regarded and respected”.
“Industry leaders will be fuming about this latest sad chapter in Barnaby Joyce's relocation pork barrel,” he said.
“Ms Arthy’s departure will further undermine confidence in the APVMA and will most likely see more managers, scientists and lawyers follow her lead.
“The demise of the APVMA’s expertise threatens its capacity to provide farmers with the newest and innovative crop sprays and animal medicines they need to remain productive and competitive.
“It's also a threat to human health, our environment and food exports.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the APVMA was funded by industry on a cost recovery basis and established by an Intergovernmental Agreement with the States and Mr Joyce “has no right to spend taxpayers' money to move it to his own electorate”.
Despite calls by Mr Fitzgibbon for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to intervene and block the relocation, Mr Joyce said yesterday it was “going to happen”.
“It is a decision of cabinet, it’s a decision of the minister, it’s a decision of the government and it’s supported by everybody,” he said.
“I know there are a lot of people within the department ready to roll and they want to see this happen - they are part of the program.
“Ultimately it is reality, that if you're a public servant, you’re a servant of the public and I am a servant of the public.
“I have got to recognise that if the Australian people vote me out, that’s it - that’s their decision.
“I can't say well I’m going to hang around Canberra because I choose to.
“I am a servant of the public and that service to the public is deliberated and it is instructed by the parliament and for the cabinet so you have to respect it.”