AN inquiry is being held by the House of Representatives Agriculture and Water Resources Committee into why reforms that were put forward in mid-2014 to improve the national farm chemical regulator’s performance are lagging behind.
The Committee examination is being Chaired by WA farmer and Liberal O’Connor MP Rick Wilson who also oversaw its previous investigation of water use efficiency for Australian farming.
It will inquire into the APVMA’s performance, in relation to a report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released in the middle of last year that looked into the stalled progress of about four years, for implementing the regulator’s reforms.
The ANAO report said over $3 billion of agricultural chemicals, such as insecticides, herbicides and other pesticides, and veterinary medicines were sold each year throughout Australia.
But when the report was tabled in June last year, CropLife Australia CEO Matthew Cossey said it highlighted the “serious failure of the reform processes to deliver real regulatory efficiencies and confirms industry’s long-standing call that urgent action is needed”.
“This ANAO report confirms that the regulatory reform imposed on the APVMA has failed to improve efficiency,” he said.
“The report’s main findings reflect industry’s justified criticism and are best summed up on page eight of the report that ‘overall, the regulatory burden on industry has not been reduced since the reforms were implemented’.”
The Committee’s inquiry arrives with NSW Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm having indicated he’s pressuring the new Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud into reinstating the APVMA’s board, rather than having a CEO report directly to the Agriculture Minister, in a move he believes will improve operational efficiency and deliver results that serve farmers’ commercial needs.
The House of Representatives Committee investigation will include Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon who has been highly critical and outspoken of the Coalition relocating the APVMA from Canberra to Armidale in the New England electorate of Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, as part of his party’s decentralisation agenda.
Mr Wilson said the inquiry going ahead because the ANAO report had brought to the Committee’s attention the delays in implementing efficiency measures for the APVMA, which were legislated in July 2014.
He said the Committee decided to “take a quick look” at the APVMA’s functions and would call in central players like new APVMA CEO Dr Chris Parker to ask some questions, seeking explanations.
Farm industry members and users of veterinary chemicals and pesticides would also be given an opportunity to have their say, he said.
Mr Wilson said inquiry submissions were open until February 28.
“I’m sure we’ll hear some very interesting evidence and I think it’ll be healthy to shine a light on the APVMA,” he said.
“Under the new CEO they are making some improvements and the move to Armidale may have been a bit disruptive for them, but I’m looking forward to hearing what people have to say.
“We haven’t set a reporting deadline as yet but we’ll be asking Dr Chris Parker to come in and give evidence at a hearing on March 3, in Canberra.
“We’ll consider the submissions that come in up to February 28 and if we need to hear more evidence from anyone making submissions, we’ll ask those people to appear before the Committee.
“There’s an option to appear before the Committee via video link which is available for anyone, including in WA where I’m from, who has expressed concerns about these issues.
“There’s no (reporting) deadline for this inquiry as yet but we’d like to have it completed by early April and table something by the middle of May.”
Mr Wilson said it was “very important” to have a regulatory authority that did a “robust job” of ensuring it provided chemicals to farmers and other users that were effective and do what they’re designed to do and also safe for humans and the environment.
“But having said that, I do hear a lot of complaint from industry suppliers that the timeframes to get chemicals registered and to get a label, so they can get the product out into the commercial space, takes way too long,” he said.
“And they’re particularly aggrieved that, while it’s a cost-recovery system and they pay as they go, there’s no kind of commercial disciplines on the APVMA to ensure that process is as expeditious as possible.
“Once we’ve all heard the evidence and come up with some recommendation I’ll be speaking to the minister to make sure those recommendations are implemented.
“Cost effectiveness, efficiency and time efficiency is paramount and that’s where we’ll be looking ahead to.
“I don’t think we’d be talking about using more money from government for the APVMA and I’d say industry members are comfortable with paying for the service but they just want the service to be delivered faster and more efficiently.”
Other Committee members that will have their role in the inquiry include; SA Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey; and Chair of the Coalition’s Agricultural Backbench Committee and SA Liberal MP Tony Pasin.
The ANAO report said in July 2014, a range of legislative reforms came into effect with the aim of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the APVMA’s regulatory activities.
It said the legislative reforms were “wide-ranging” and required the Authority to introduce a range of new guidance and assessment procedures, administrative requirements, and timeframes.
But it said the APVMA’s implementation of ag-vet chemical legislative reform has been “mixed”.
“While key legislative reforms were implemented by the legislated timeframe of July 2014, the full scope of the reform program is yet to be implemented more than four years since the legislative amendments were developed,” it said.
“Further, the Authority is not well placed to determine the extent to which reform objectives have been met in the absence of a robust set of performance measures.
“There is considerable scope for the APVMA to improve its management of major reform projects, particularly in the context of the government’s decision to relocate the Authority over the next two years.”
The report said the APVMA hadn’t established a robust performance measurement framework to measure the effectiveness of the reform program in achieving greater efficiency of its activities and in reducing the regulatory burden on industry.
“While performance measures that have been established by the Authority provide insights into the delivery of regulatory activities - for example the timeliness of decision-making - they do not clearly indicate the extent to which reform objectives are being achieved,” it said.
“The limited performance information retained by the APVMA indicates that it has not achieved greater efficiencies in the delivery of its regulatory activities and, overall, the regulatory burden on industry has not been reduced since the reforms were implemented.
“The APVMA’s governance of the delivery of the reform program was not effective, with significant weaknesses in oversight, planning and risk management arrangements.”
Committee Inquiry Website:
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