FARMERS say the loss of Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) CEO Kareena Arthy is a set-back for stability at a critical time of upheaval and major change, for the national farm chemical regulator.
APVMA staff members and stakeholders were told today of Ms Arthy’s departure after four years in the role, set to formally end on May 31, as she takes up a job in the ACT government.
It arrives as the Coalition government has ordered the Authority be moved from Canberra to Armidale to set up a centre of agricultural excellence at the University of New England in northern NSW, in National’s leader Barnaby Joyce’s electorate.
Today, Grain Producers Australia Chairman Andrew Weidemann said Ms Arthy had been doing an “excellent job” and was more than capable in the role and her loss was a negative for managing the complicated.
“It’s a critical time for the APVMA at the moment,” he said of the move to Armidale.
“It’s well noted that Kareena Arthy has been working quite hard to try and re-establish the APVMA in Armidale and it’s unfortunate to lose her capabilities at this important time.
“This is a set-back for the reorganisation of the APVMA.”
Mr Weidemann said he did not believe the loss of the CEO would be a set-back for the process of approving new crop chemical products to the Australian market.
He said the APVMA’s fundamental day to day activities should not be affected by the loss of just one person and staff should have their roles assigned to them internally, to maintain regular work-processes.
“I would not see Kareen’s resignation as a set-back for chemical registrations,” he said.
But he said the resignation would be a loss for the APVMA’s move from Canberra because “they need a figure head to provide stability and someone to ensure the change of direction, to be based in Armidale, is well managed”.
“It’s well noted now the move has been agreed to by the federal cabinet so it’s hard to see that changing,” he said.
“But now we need to ensure we can motivate the organisation in the right direction to manage any associated risks and to ensure there’s no slow-down in the approval of farm chemical registrations.”
Mr Weidemann said chemical product registrations had to be processed in a timely manner to ensure the APVMA received income and revenue because the farm chemical regulator operated on a cost recovery basis.
“That’s the bit that’s missing in all of this,” he said.
“If chemical companies are not turning up to register chemical products, the APVMA has no money to operate.
“We’d urge the government to appoint a replacement for Ms Arthy as soon as possible, to ensure the relocation is managed effectively.”
Since the government’s relocation order last year, at an initial estimated cost of about $25 million, the APVMA has been dealing with the loss of expert, specialist regulatory staff and its capacity to maintain an acceptable rate of approvals.
In an internal staff survey, only 10 per cent of respondents, or regulatory scientists, indicated they’d be willing to move from Canberra.
Today, Animal Medicines Australia (AMA) said it acknowledged the work done by Ms Arthy to improve the chemical regulator’s effectiveness and efficiency.
AMA Executive Director Ben Stanley said the outgoing CEO’s efforts to improve the APVMA’s predictability and transparency had been appreciated, “but these must continue to support the introduction of new veterinary medicine products for farm productivity and animal health”.
“AMA looks forward to working with Ms Arthy’s replacement on a number of issues including the relocation of the APVMA to Armidale, the development of administrative and regulatory efficiencies and the development of a new digital strategy critical to the successful relocation of the agency.” he said.
“Ms Arthy leaves is a solid foundation for her replacement and the government to work on and will help facilitate an APVMA that is a world leader in assessments.”
Last week, CropLife Australia CEO Matthew Cossey told a Senate hearing into the government’s decentralisation policy relocating the APVMA would “cause a net loss to the efficiency of the regulator”.
He said it would also lead to “serious negative impacts on the Australian plant science industry and the nation's farming sector in the short, medium and perhaps long-term due to the loss of the highly technical and specialised workforce of the APVMA and the serious shortage of experienced regulatory scientists not just in Australia but globally”.
“The loss of these specialised staff, the corresponding loss of professional experience in the authority, the significant challenge of replacing such staff and the corresponding serious and significant impact on the operation of the APVMA is the reason we do not support the relocation,” he said.
Today, Mr Cossey said Ms Arthy’s resignation was “disappointing” but CropLife Australia acknowledged her “strong leadership of the Authority and thanks her for her efforts”.
He said Ms Arthy had led the APVMA through significant change with legislative reform and a range of internal management and operational improvements.
“Under the leadership of Ms Arthy the APVMA improved its performance and we hope that internal improvement momentum is not lost with her leaving,” he said.
“Unfortunately, much of her good work has been swiftly eroded as a direct result of forced relocation of the APVMA and associated experiences staff losses.
“Addressing the ramifications of the relocation and upheaval of Australia’s agvet chemical regulator remains the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
“The Australian government now needs to ensure an appointment process is undertaken swiftly and in full consultation with the relevant stakeholders.”
At last week’s Senate inquiry hearing, Mr Cossey was asked about his group’s ongoing concerns with the regulator’s performance including early last year in only achieving 52 per cent of its work, within statutory time frames.
He said the APVMA’s efficiency issue was “one that we will pursue and have for a long time”.
“Irrespective of relocation, the regulator operating at efficiency is crucial,” he said.
“With regard to the potential impact, I suppose that is where I would suggest to you that we have seen, over the last few years, some significant reforms.
“The legislative regulatory one undertaken by the previous government did not deliver.
“There were some changes under the new government which improved that, but a major lift from that 52pc number….was their last quarter number, which hit 87pc in September.
“So we have seen those internal reforms beginning to take effect.”
But Mr Cossey said the applications the APVMA were dealing with in the December quarter last year were 28pc down on the total number the regulator was dealing with the year before.
“So those numbers, in real terms, are even worse in terms of efficiency,” he said.
But other groups that testified at last week’s hearing also believed the APVMA relocation offered opportunity for critical reforms, to enhance performance.
National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) AgVet Chemicals Taskforce Chair Reg Kidd agreed the APVMA’s performance had been struggling for years and told the hearing the relocation process needed to look at a new model and way of doing things “more efficiently and effectively”.
“That will be embracing the new digital world, I suppose, and different things to be done - perhaps with modular applications,” he said.
Mr Stapley said the AMA saw the digital strategy as “absolutely fundamental” to making this relocation potentially even work.
“Our objective at every stage has been to make sure that we can maximise the capability of the regulator both through the transition period and once the regulator has positioned itself in Armidale,” he said.
“There are a number of impediments to allowing that to occur at the moment, but these are impediments that we see with the way that the APVMA is currently operating.
“Those include a number of systems internally which do not talk to one another particularly well.
“For example, the way that the information is inputted by our applicants does not necessarily flow through the entire APVMA system so that can require a series of double-handling attempts by the APVMA, which are quite inefficient.
“The opportunity that exists is to undertake a comprehensive rebuild of all their systems which would then allow increased automation, which would minimise the amount of assessment on some of the potentially lower risk type product applications which occur and potentially also ease the transition as well.
“The digital strategy is fundamental to making the relocation work.
“That sort of investment in a new digital strategy for the APVMA would be something that the industry would support irrespective of the relocation.”
“Outsourcing that enables the APVMA to focus on what are its core businesses and its core functions is, similarly, going to be essential to making sure that the core of what is relocated to Armidale can be as straightforwardly moved as possible.
“That would allow the APVMA to focus on what are its core functions.”