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Peak agricultural chemical agency faces major shake-up

Minister Murray Watt says a review found claims of "industry capture" at a key chemicals regulator.

Minister Murray Watt says a review found claims of "industry capture" at a key chemicals regulator. Photo: AAP

The chief executive and chair of Australia’s agricultural and veterinary chemicals regulator have quit in the wake of a damning review into the body.

A report into the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority released on Friday found “serious and systemic issues” with the regulator’s operations, conduct and governance.

The report also said a number of serious “personnel-related complaints” made between 2019 and 2022 had been referred to relevant authorities for further investigation.

They ranged from allegations of nepotism to “inappropriate behaviour in the workplace”.

“The matters identified by the review are very serious and point to systemic problems with the administration and governance of the APVMA,” Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said.

“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 said the authority’s approach to regulation “coupled with its engagement with specific stakeholders in certain instances has a high risk of regulatory capture by industry”.

The report also found former Nationals leader and minister Barnaby Joyce’s decision to move the regulator from Canberra to the NSW regional centre of 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 government has appointed former public servant Ken Matthews to provide a set of recommendations by the end of September.

Senator Watt said he had also taken the unprecedented action of issuing a ministerial direction to finalise the reviews of eight chemicals, which had each been running for more than 17 years.

“We cannot continue to have reviews of chemicals drag on for decades – this is not good regulatory practice,” he said.

– AAP

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