Staff of Barnaby Joyce’s pesticides regulator leave in droves

Staff of Barnaby Joyce’s pesticides regulator leave in droves
Former deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce (middle). Photo by Apple and Pear Australia via Wikimedia Commons

The pesticides regulation agency that Barnaby Joyce relocated from Canberra to Armidale, his own electorate, has had over half of its staff leave in less than two years. Only a quarter of the current staff working there say that they would likely move to Armidale for their job.

Brooke Muscat-Bentley, of the public sector’s union, said that this news has “negative impacts in terms of the agriculture industry” and that it was “problematic” for Australia. The agency, known as APVMA (Australia Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority), tests and approves horticultural and agricultural chemicals before they are permitted in Australia including many common household products.

On the 2016 campaign trail, former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, made an announcement that the APVMA would go through a relocation to Armidale in New South Wales. At that time there were 198 staff members.

Since June 2016, at least 110 employees have left the agency, 33 of which were regulatory scientists. Chief executive of APVMA, Chris Parker, said that he didn’t think it was a “disaster” but that the number of staff having left was more “than would normally leave”.

Parker said that “of course it’s a challenge” but that there were measures in place “to maintain the knowledge that we have”.

APVMA has said that most of its vacancies had been filled but that most of the new staff do not plan to move to Armidale. A recent poll showed that only 37 employees were likely to relocate.

Barnaby Joyce recently insisted that the relocation to Armidale would be “a great outcome” for Australia in the “medium to longer term”. He also said that everyone has to “make hard decisions” and they need to “iron them out”.

As well as shortages of staff, there have been several other difficulties facing the APVMA before it makes its move in 2019.

Documents that were acquired by news media show that the construction of its new facility is several weeks behind schedule, a 30k relocation offer was rejected by staff and that there is a high risk that people will lose their confidence in the regulatory authority.

Ms Muscat-Bentley said that the whole thing was “a mess from the outset” and that a choice was made “on a political whim” to relocate the offices of several people.

The APVMA is now offering up to 55k for those staff who relocate as well as lucrative retention bonuses.