ABC New England North West Breakfast with Kristy Reading

17 July 2023


Kristy Reading, Host: Labor Senator Tim Ayres joins us now for his reaction to this report. Mr Ayers, thanks for your time today.


Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: G'day, Christie. Good to be on the show.


Kristy Reading: What do you make of this report?


Assistant Minister: Well, it's very clear that the announcement that previous Minister Mr Joyce made to shift the APVMA to Armidale, and the lack of attention and maladministration that has ensued, has left the APVMA, which is a vital body for Australian agriculture, a smoking ruin. The report details, chapter and verse, the cultural and management and capability catastrophe that ensued when Mr Joyce made the announcement but didn't do the follow through. And that was a characteristic of the Morrison, Turnbull and Abbott governments, of which Mr Joyce was a very significant part.

It's not Armidale's fault that the APVMA location was poorly handled and resulted in all sorts of terrible cultural and capability problems. It's the responsibility of the previous government and this institution, this agency is vital for Australian agriculture. And we, as a government and Minister Watt, made it very clear that following this independent review, the government is going to do what is required to ensure that the APVMA returns to its real business, and that is delivering for Australian agriculture, rather than being a prop for political stunts for Mr Joyce and Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull.


Kristy Reading: Will the APVMA stay in Armidale?


Assistant Minister: Well, that's going to be a matter for the Minister and the review that's now been conducted by a very senior public servant, Ken Matthews. That decision has not been made. We're going to work carefully through these issues, so we'll actually pay attention to detail here. We've got to maintain what credibility and capability is there in the APVMA, make sure that it's focused on its central task, veterinary and pesticides medicines management, make sure that it's delivering for Australian agriculture and it's got the capability that it requires. We're going to focus on attention to detail, be an adult government that's actually in charge and takes responsibility for delivering these vital services to Australian agriculture. It's in the interests of the agricultural sector, interests of regional Australia. It's in a national interest that this organisation does its job properly and we're determined to make sure that it does.


Kristy Reading: Do you support it staying in Armidale, though? Would you like to see it stay in Armidale?


Assistant Minister: What I support is that this organisation needs to return to doing its job properly. Regional Australia relies upon it. This has been a cultural catastrophe for this organisation. It can't be focused on doing its real job if there is a serious complaint being made every four to six weeks. You detailed earlier this morning the kind of allegations, the cultural behaviours that mean that this organisation could not be focused on doing its real job because it wasn't being taken seriously by the government. Now, its location is going to be a matter for the review and for the Minister to make a decision after we've actually considered these issues properly, what is in the best interests of the organisation and regional Australia.

So, I'm not going to telegraph those issues on the program at this stage. That's a matter for Murray Watt to determine. He'll take responsibility for doing that. And what you'll see from us over the coming years is we will take careful care and we'll actually take responsibility for the outcomes of the decisions that we make. I listened to part of that interview from Mr Joyce earlier. I won't dignify that interview with much of a response, except to say it is very clear that the Liberal and National parties have not learnt the lessons of what has happened over the course of the last few years in terms of maladministration and incompetence and this core issue of taking responsibility for the government's work. Now, the government's work in this agency really matters for Australian agriculture and the National Party under Mr Joyce and subsequent agriculture Ministers, completely dropped the ball. And it would be good, it would be a good first step if they took some responsibility for what's happened here, acknowledged their own role in this failure and supported the Government's efforts to try and clean it up and restore this agency to the credibility and capability that it needs.


Kristy Reading: But do you understand, though, the ramifications of if the APVMA was to be moved from Armidale back to Canberra, the hole that that would leave in the community? People have been buoyed by the decentralisation of this department, job creation, the impact it's had on the local economy. I mean, wouldn't it be in the best interest to just keep it in Armidale and fix the issues here?


Assistant Minister: Well, of course, every job that could be located in regional Australia, that does really matter for regional economies. I understand that, I grew up in your listening area. I grew up in Glen Innes. I understand how important these jobs are. Equally, it's vital that when these kinds of decisions are made that go to the capability of key agencies like the APVMA, that there is a bit of follow through, that there is a bit of attention to detail, and that the inevitable cultural and capability issues that flow from a relocation are attended to. Now, what's happened here is they weren't attended to. They've been left to run for years and years and years. The agency has lost its way over the course of that process and now the new government has to clean up the mess. The problem here is promises were made to the community that weren't delivered on.


Kristy Reading: So, why not fix them in Armidale?


Assistant Minister: Well, as I say, Minister Murray Watt is going to work through those issues in a careful way. The most important thing to happen here is to make sure this agency does its job for every regional community across Australia. Hundreds of thousands of farmers, farming families, workers in our agricultural sector rely upon this agency actually being focused on its job. That is the most critical thing, that we get this agency back to task, back to doing its job, and that the people who work for the agency aren't subjected to the kind of behaviours that have been alleged here. It is completely appalling, indefensible, and, as I say, the government is now acting to clean up this mess.


Kristy Reading: So, will you, though, Tim Ayes, as Labor Senator, will you advocate for the APVMA to stay in Armidale?


Assistant Minister: I'm going to support this Minister in his important work fixing this mess up. Now, he will give consideration to all of those issues. I've got complete confidence that Murray Watt, as the Agriculture Minister, will attend to all of these issues. Most important thing here is to fix the agency up. This is a catastrophe for the agency. That interview that I listened to this morning from Mr Joyce was an embarrassment. I mean, he should be taking responsibility and in a careful and sober way, rather than making big promises that are never delivered, taking responsibility for what has happened here and supporting the government in its efforts to clean up this terrible mess.


Kristy Reading: What's the timeline from here, Mr Ayers? What happens now with decisions, with change for the culture within the APVMA? What's your understanding?


Assistant Minister: The government will work through it carefully. Minister Watt will make announcements over the next short space of time about future directions for the APVMA. And I'll leave those announcements and the timing of those announcements with you.


Kristy Reading: Labor Senator Tim Ayres. Thanks for your time on this this morning.


Assistant Minister: Thanks so much.