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Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Page: 6930


Senator FARRELL (South Australia) (19:10): Labor will support the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority Board and Other Improvements) Bill 2019. We note that this bill has been around for some time. It was first introduced into the parliament back in September 2019.

The stated purpose of the bill is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the national system for regulating agvet chemical products. The bill will also allow for the establishment of a governance board for the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, the APVMA. It is submitted that the establishment of the APVMA board would strengthen the organisation's governance arrangements and provide the necessary oversight to help the regulator manage operational, financial and performance matters.

I think it's important to note that the government has been slow to implement it—like so many other things with this government; it's just slow. I know you're laughing about it, Mr Acting Deputy President McLachlan. Sometimes it can be funny—and you're still laughing about it. The government is slow to implement the necessary reforms which were expected by industry stakeholders following the introduction of significant legislative reforms introduced by the Labor government in 2013 to improve the efficiency of the APVMA.

On 19 September 2019, the Senate referred the bill to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee, and I note the work undertaken by Labor senators during this inquiry. The deputy chair of RRAT, Senator Sterle—a very fine fellow, who we heard from yesterday—provided some dissenting comments as part of this inquiry and raised a number of valid points in relation to this bill. On the whole, Labor senators support the majority of this bill but there were some concerns around the governance board, specifically in relation to the cost of establishing such a regulatory body. During the inquiry key stakeholders raised a number of issues, including the cost to the farming sector for the board to operate and the fact that there was no clear policy rationale as to how the industry would benefit from implementing the board.

Since the RRAT inquiry, an independent panel has reviewed the regulatory framework for agvet chemicals. The final report of the Mathews review was submitted to the government in May 2021 and it included 58 recommendations. One of those recommendations supported the establishment of a five-member skills-based board, including the CEO of the APVMA as an ex officio member. The independent panel stated that this would strengthen the APVMA in relation to its governance arrangements; provide it with the necessary oversight to support it in managing operational, financial and performance matters; and drive the reform agenda. The Mathews report stated that the APVMA is one of a few corporate Commonwealth entities without a board. That's very unusual. The other Commonwealth regulatory entities with direct responsibilities for protecting human life and/or health, such as Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Civil Aviation Safety authority, all have boards.

With regard to the make-up of the board, it will include a mix of regulatory people with scientific, related public health and occupational health and safety skills. The minister for agriculture will appoint the board members through a transparent and merit-based process, and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will be responsible for undertaking the recruitment process. I want to take this opportunity to thank the minister for agriculture and his office for extending bipartisan support on this bill with the shadow minister. That's an example of how things ought to work in this place, as I'm sure you would agree, Mr Acting Deputy President.

It was important to gain some assurances from the minister for agriculture before Labor could support this bill. Firstly, I note the government's intention to move the already circulated amendments in relation to computerised decision-making. Secondly, the structure of the board will mirror the one recommended in the Matthews report that includes five members. The shadow minister has also received assurances from the minister for agriculture that the board will be merit based. Thirdly, given the concerns of stakeholders around the cost, the minister for agriculture has proposed to the shadow minister that the government would provide $1 million over two years—$600,000 in the first year and $400,000 in the second year—to assist with establishing the board. Labor are supportive of the funding promised and think that this will help with some of the concerns raised by stakeholders. Given these assurances, Labor will not be proceeding with our amendment circulated on sheet 8846.

I wanted to spend some time on some of the other related agricultural issues that are currently plaguing the Morrison-Joyce government. It's hard to trust the government and support Australian farmers and regional communities when there hasn't been a lot of action. Under this Prime Minister, there's been a history of epic failures. I'll repeat that: under this Prime Minister, there's been a history of epic failures when it comes to Aussie farmers and the ag sector—

Honourable senators interjecti ng

Senator FARRELL: Well, I repeated it, so that—

Senator McKenzie: I saw that. You lost your place.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: All banter must go through the chair, Minister!

Senator FARRELL: No, I didn't. I said it twice. I'm sure Senator McMahon from the Northern Territory understands that I repeated it—don't you? She heard me, Mr Acting Deputy President.

Senator McMahon interjecting

Senator FARRELL: That's right, yes. Some people in the National Party do understand these things better than others.

Senator McKenzie interjecting

Senator FARRELL: You wait and see, Senator McKenzie! Under this Prime Minister, there's been no action on climate change; the industry is miles ahead and has already set its own targets, some of which are to be achieved by 2030. There's a crippling workforce shortage, there's another bumper summer crop on the way and the ag sector is short tens of thousands of workers. A horrific mouse plague has caused devastation across multiple states. There are severe timber shortages—we all know about that—and the government's one billion trees in a decade is never going to be reached. Australia's biosecurity system has been slammed by the Inspector-General of Biosecurity and by the Auditor-General.

And then we have the APVMA. The government relocated the APVMA to Armidale, New South Wales, in 2018. We all know what a fiasco that was—

Senator McKenzie: It was fantastic. We've got international scientists in Armidale.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. The relocation was turbulent and challenging, and it disrupted the efficiency and effectiveness of the APVMA. Basically, it's been eight long years from a tired government that should have done more for Australian farmers and regional communities.

In conclusion, good regulation and good governance are essential when it comes to agvet chemicals. Again, Labor note the assurances from the Morrison-Joyce government that this new board will be merit based—something very unusual for this government—and that it will deliver on the funding, as outlined earlier in my speech, to establish the APVMA board. With these assurances, Labor can offer our support to the bill.