Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority staff trial e-working from home

AGENCY MOVE: Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce at the opening of the interim office in Armidale earlier this year. Photo: Madeline Link
AGENCY MOVE: Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce at the opening of the interim office in Armidale earlier this year. Photo: Madeline Link

Regulatory scientists no longer have to move to Armidale despite the pesticides authority’s promise to see 100 specialist jobs relocated to the city.

Staff will be able to work from home under the agency’s new e-working policy.

“We’re running a trial on that particular policy and we’ve had an expression of interest for staff to say ‘yes they’d like to participate in that trial’,” APVMA CEO Dr Chris Parker said.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce announced the pesticides authority’s move from Canberra to Armidale in November last year.

It’s since been plagued with record staff resignations and historic slumps in on-time approval rates.

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Twenty regulatory scientists and an additional 28 staff members, with 204 years’ service between them, left the agency between July and February. 

The Opposition’s Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has condemned the move since the get-go.

“It was a poorly thought out proposal, something that Barnaby Joyce hasn’t been able to progress simply because the key staff at the APVMA are highly qualified regulatory scientists and lawyers who have their spouses in Canberra, their children embedded in Canberra schools and can easily secure another job at a similar level,” he said.

A report released by the agency in 2016 said the initial target was to have 100 people operating out of Armidale but so far only six have relocated.

The Opposition Agricultural Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

The Opposition Agricultural Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

But Dr Parker said while regulatory scientists may “be more able to” work from home, e-working won’t suit all roles.

“I think it’s pretty clear that there will be roles that aren’t suitable for e-working in the APVMA which will be very much based in Armidale,” he said.

Dr Parker said “client-facing” roles would be required to be based in Armidale.

“E-working will be an important tool but we won’t have half the organisation e-working, there’ll be a small number of specialists positions that will e-work,” he said.

APVMA CEO Dr Chris Parker.

APVMA CEO Dr Chris Parker.

“I don’t have any concerns one way or another. 

“We will have a mix of scientists based in Armidale and a mix of scientists who work for the APVMA from home in an e-working arrangement.”

The trial will run for three months in the new year.

“We’ll get some learnings about what technology works best, what sort of arrangements work best,” he said.

“There will be roles that will be very suitable for e-working.”

Mr Joyce’s office referred Fairfax Media to the APVMA’s media team when asked to comment.

A spokesman from the pesticides authority said four regulatory scientists, a business manager and an administrative assistant currently make up the Armidale workforce.

“When he’s not in Canberra, our CEO is also working from the Armidale office,” the spokesman said.

“In January 2018 there will be 10 to 12 staff, depending on the outcomes of recruitment action.

“By February we’re likely to have a full complement of 15 staff, 10 of whom are regulatory scientists.”

The spokesman said by 2019, the majority of the workforce will be located in Armidale.

“We envisage up to 150 APVMA employees will work from the permanent premises in Armidale,” the spokesperson said.

“A small number of specialist scientific positions will be eligible for e-working and will support our operations throughout the transition.”

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