APVMA approvals rate crashes further as Armidale move looms

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was a driving force behind the pesticides authority's forced move to Armidale. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was a driving force behind the pesticides authority's forced move to Armidale. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

A new chief executive and efforts to recruit staff at the embattled national pesticides authority ahead of its move to Armidale has failed to improve its on-time product approval rate, leaving close to half its work unfinished by agency deadlines.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, which endured a mass drain of scientists following a controversial government order to leave Canberra,approved only one quarter of new pesticides on time in the three months to June, crashing from 30 per cent in the previous quarter and 57 per cent last year.

Results released late on Friday showed the agency took longer to approve new products, meeting required timeframes for only 58 per cent of its work in the three months to June, compared to 62 per cent in the March quarter and 68 per cent in 2015-16.

The figures show the APVMA continues to struggle meeting deadlines after a staff exodus as the government ordered it to relocate north sent the agency's on-time approvals tumbling.

In a report released in June, the national auditor found the APVMA was resorting to rolling recruitment campaigns to deal with staff resignations.

Interim APVMA chief executive Chris Parker, who took the job after Kareena Arthy's resignation earlier this year, admitted the agency was not performing as it should and said it would solve its deficiencies.

"We must do better and we will," he said.

Dr Parker said on Thursday he had commissioned a "root cause" review of the agency's operational performance.

Products waiting for approval and still within required timeframes also fell from 73 per cent in the first quarter to 67 per cent in the three months to June.

The agency improved its rate of vet medicine approvals meeting deadlines, rising to 75 per cent from 58 per cent last quarter.

But only 43 per cent of pesticides and veterinary medicines combined were approved on time, largely unchanged from the previous quarter and well down on the 66 per cent rate in 2015-16.

The pesticides authority has endured a tumultuous year losing Ms Arthy, and before her, almost one quarter of staff or 20 regulatory scientists along with 28 other staff members between July 2016 and February.

Falling on-time product approvals rates followed as resignations reached nearly 20 per cent at the APVMA in 2015-16, dwarfing the APS' average of 7 per cent, and the Nationals promised its leader Barnaby Joyce's New England electorate it would host the agency if it re-elected them at the 2016 federal poll.

The agency has reported struggling to find regulatory scientists to replace those walking out the door since the Coalition government decision to move it from Canberra in November 2016.

Agency officials told senators in an estimates hearing last May it struggled through the month with a 15 per cent staff vacancy rate as it dealt with an influx of work.

The National Party announced earlier this year it intended to massively expand its policy of "decentralisation" or shifting public service agencies out of Canberra and other capital cities and into regional Australia.

The story APVMA approvals rate crashes further as Armidale move looms first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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