Government action to ensure integrity of ag chemical regulation

The Albanese Government will take firm action to ensure the integrity of Australia’s agricultural and veterinary chemicals regulation system, following the release of a report detailing serious allegations concerning the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

The APVMA is the regulator of Australia’s agricultural and veterinary chemicals, up to the point of sale.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt said the independent review found serious and systemic issues with the regulator’s operations, conduct and governance.

“At my request, the APVMA Board commissioned an independent review into the operations of the APVMA, which was conducted by law firm Clayton Utz, and I have released a copy to the public today,” Minister Watt said.

“The matters identified by the review are very serious and point to systemic problems with the administration and governance of the APVMA.

“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.

“The report also found that former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s decision to move the regulator to Armidale resulted in a loss of corporate knowledge, a loss of corporate culture and a loss of experience and knowledge of public sector values.

“The Albanese Government is treating these issues with the gravity they deserve.

“Our first course of action will be a rapid evaluation of the APVMA’s structure and governance.

“This will be conducted by eminent former public servant Mr Ken Matthews AO.”

The report from the rapid evaluation will be provided to the Minister by 30 September 2023 and will include recommendations on the future governance, structure and funding arrangements of the APVMA.

Importantly, the independent review concluded that the material it had reviewed ‘does not indicate any instances where agvet chemical products have been registered inappropriately'.

However, the review also found that the APVMA has ‘prioritised regulatory performance in relation to registrations, assessments and approvals over regulatory performance in relation to monitoring, compliance and enforcement'.

In addition, the review 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'.

“This has resulted in the review of a number of chemicals that are already on the market taking far longer than statutory timeframes,” Minister Watt said.

“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. 

“This action has never been taken by an Australian Agriculture Minister before.

“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.

“In the interests of transparency, the report is now publicly available, while preserving the identities of individuals and companies who are the subject of allegations.

“Based on this review, I am 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.”

Both the CEO of the APVMA and Board Chair have tendered their resignations from their respective roles in recent days.

Acting arrangements are in place while a nationwide search will be conducted for their long-term replacements.

View the report here: https://www.agriculture.gov.au/apvma-review