PINGELLY farmer John Hassell says the federal government’s decision to axe the national chemical regulatory agency’s advisory board is “misguided” and removes accountability to end users - the growers.
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce wrote to Mr Hassell recently saying the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority’s (APVMA) advisory board would be terminated, from November 13.
The decision is based on the minister’s view that government and private industry resources are currently strained and more efficient ways exist to provide the APVMA CEO with industry advice and expertise.
This year’s federal agricultural budget slashed funding to other government advisory bodies, as part of an agenda to pursue smaller government, including axing the APVMA’s Community Consultative Committee and Industry Liaison Committee.
In his letter, Mr Joyce said alternative stakeholder and public engagement could be achieved by APVMA board members attending meetings of industry stakeholders like CropLife Australia and Animal Medicines Australia, at least once a year.
His letter also said the APVMA conducted industry forums each year where at least three representatives of stakeholder groups are invited to attend.
APVMA staff also discuss issues with chemical associations and attend forums or hold meetings with other groups like the National Farmers Federation, he said.
“I believe these and other opportunities for stakeholder and community engagement and advice will ensure the APVMA CEO remains closely connected with issues and views,” Mr Joyce said.
But in his reply, Mr Hassell – the only farmer member of the advisory board and a grower-elected director of WA farmer co-operative CBH – said the minister’s motivations to save industry money and reduce government “are admirable” but “very misguided”.
“My original motivation to apply for the APVMA advisory board was based on the very fact that the stakeholders you mention in the dismissal letter were the only ones consulted a few years ago when the APVMA wanted a significant increase in funding,” he said.
“Oddly enough at no time were the farmers consulted.
“This absolutely flies in the face of genuine stakeholder engagement as the chemical companies pass the full cost of the APVMA fees on to the end user: the farmer.”
Mr Hassell warned end users of pesticide and veterinary medicine products would now “have no oversight or any kind of say in the way in which their funds are used”.
“While (the APVMA) is meant to be a regulatory body, independent of government and of the end user, it still should be accountable to those who fund it to make sure it is expedient and efficient in the job it does and the way in which it spends industry funds,” he said.
“Interestingly this organisation is fully funded by industry and does not tap into the taxpayer dollar which one would have thought that logically industry should have some oversight.
“I very firmly believe that the APVMA should have not only an advisory board but a proper management board.
“I urge you to reconsider your decision to not have a board in the best interests of the farming community.”
During his time on the board, Mr Hassell said he pushed for “realistic” key performance indicators at the APVMA to make turnaround times and efficiency a high priority “as there were many examples of inordinate time taken to get registration”.
He said discussions had also focused on reaching agreement that the main funder of the organisation was the end user with a large proportion being the farmer; indirectly through the chemical companies.
“So while there are plenty of opportunities to have so called stakeholder engagement there will be no accountability,” he said of removing the advisory board.
Under its specific legislation – the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act - the APVMA advisory board contains nine members who are selected for specific expertise.
Two members have experience in chemical product regulation; one in the agricultural chemical industry; one in primary production; one in environmental toxicology; one in protecting consumer interest; one in public health and occupational health and safety; and one chosen by the minister in a field relevant to the APVMA's functions.
Chair of Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd and the Council of Rural Research and Development Corporations Selwyn Snell is also a member of the advisory board which commenced in November 2012 and meets four times per year.
Since its establishment, the board has addressed issues like the agricultural and veterinary chemical legislation changes dealt with by the Australian parliament and the APVMA’s role in approving minor-use permits for chemicals used by smaller industries.
The advisory board’s meeting in Canberra in April this year addressed the development of an Agricultural Communications Strategy aimed at farmers and other chemical users to support the APVMA.
According to the Act, the advisory board does not have decision-making power, but assists to inform the CEO on strategic matters and provides an expert consultative mechanism.
The APVMA CEO is responsible for the governance and management and of the authority, including the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers.
As part of the Coalition government’s policy, Mr Joyce has also pushed for the APVMA to be relocated to Armidale, NSW, or Toowoomba, Queensland along with moving other Canberra based agencies to regional areas, like Grains Research and Development Corporation, Rural Industries RDC and Fisheries RDC.