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APVMA performance improves but ‘long way to go’ for pass mark: crop industry

A horror run of deteriorating performance has ended at the pesticides authority ahead of its move to Armidale but the crop industry says it isn’t close to reaching an acceptable standard.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority last week posted its first improvement in on-time crop product approvals in a year, after its figures toppled while staff resigned and the agency prepared for its controversial relocation from Canberra

However close to half its work remains unfinished by agency deadlines and it is approving only a third of crop protection products within timeframes ahead of the move, a signature Nationals policy and a forebear of the Coalition’s push to decentralise the public service.

On-time approvals for new crop products went into freefall following the staff resignations, bottoming at 24 per cent in June but since climbing to 36 per cent, still well below its peak of 82 per cent in September 2016. 

Agency chief executive Chris Parker called its latest performance figures “a step in the right direction” and said an independent review in December would report the underlying causes of delays in its work.

“It’s important that we continue to build more resilience and predictability into our operations,” he said.

The agency finalised 1058 applications for new products in the September quarter, almost double the usual number in previous quarters, keeping its on-time approval rate for all products steady at 58 per cent.

“We’ve experienced a particularly productive quarter and it’s promising to see applications moving through assessment and products making their way to market,” he said.

Agricultural chemical industry peak body CropLife chief executive Matthew Cossey said it welcomed the improvements “simply because the numbers are at least finally heading in the right direction”.

“The latest performance statistics indicate that practical efforts by APVMA management and staff have helped start the recovery process for timeliness of crop protection product registrations, however there is still a long way to go to reach what could be considered acceptable performance,” he said.

Significant improvement was required to achieve similar performance to last year, Mr Cossey said. 

“The APVMA’s continuous failure to meet its statutory obligated timeframes is unacceptable and comes at a massive cost to the plant science industry and the nation’s farming sector.”

The government needed to develop a package of regulatory reforms to support improvements at the pesticides authority while it moved to Armidale, he said.

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