Senate Estimates opening address, APVMA interim CEO, Dr. Chris Parker

24 October 2017

I’m delighted to have this opportunity to lead the APVMA.

Since my appointment as Interim Chief Executive Officer in June, I have spent some time analysing in greater detail what the APVMA does and establishing a view of the agency’s current position.

The APVMA is a modest agency of roughly 200, hardworking, highly skilled professionals, and the expectations upon us are significant.

The staff of the APVMA are committed to this organisation and its purpose.

However, it is clear that the APVMA has struggled with operational performance.

The APVMA has never reached 100 per cent. In fact there is volatility right through the APVMA’s quarterly reports.

This raises a number questions relating to the agency’s operational efficiency and processes. And it warrants further examination of the effort required and costs of delivering the APVMA’s regulatory function within the legislative timeframes.

I have released two quarterly performance reports, one in August, for the June quarter of 2017, and the other we published last week for the September quarter.

I have overseen the performance of the agency through one of these reports.

The statistics demonstrate a level of volatility in the agency’s ability to meet statutory timeframes for assessment and registration. This volatility existed prior to the announcement of our planned relocation to Armidale.

In fact, our timeframe performance increased one percentage point in 2016–17, with 69 per cent of applications finalised within the statutory timeframes as opposed to the 68 per cent achieved in 2015–16.

The quarterly report released last week (19 October 2017) outlines a record number of applications being finalised in a single quarter – 1058 to be exact. We have certainly tweaked some internal processes and extended ourselves to move applications through the system.

However, I don’t yet have the evidence to tell the committee with any certainty, all the factors behind this surge in productivity.

The independent review I commissioned in August should give us some further suggestions on how to achieve long term sustainable improved performance.  

The loss of expertise and agency knowledge is still a risk for the APVMA, but we are managing this risk more effectively now. In 2016–17 we had 68 people leave the APVMA, and we’ve on boarded 92, so our recruitment is more than keeping pace with our rate of attrition.

At 30 September 2017 the APVMA’s headcount was 216.

Close to a full complement, and reflective of the increased responsibilities and funding to deliver both our relocation and projects funded by the Agricultural Competiveness White Paper.

This week, our Annual Report will be tabled, outlining a financial deficit of $1.161 million. The scale of this deficit has been mitigated by underspends in appropriation provided for Armidale Relocation and projects under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

The APVMA has operated at a loss for the last three consecutive years.

Expenses have exceeded actual revenue by $3.5 million on average each year.

Our financial reserves have fallen well below our preferred position of $7.0 million and future deficits will impede efforts to replenish these reserves.

To address the declining financial position I have requested a financial sustainability plan be provided, through the CEO to the APVMA  Audit Committee before the end of this year.

This plan will outline a number of short and long term actions to align our expenses with forecasted revenue now and into the future. We must fix the longstanding issues with our operational budget. These issues exist, irrespective of where the agency is based.

In addition, there may well have been a practice in the past, to put on additional staff to help improve performance. This has contributed to the financial issues, and is not sustainable.  

The relocation provides the APVMA with an opportunity to rethink how it delivers its business.

The executive and I are using the opportunities that this relocation provides to improve the APVMA’s performance and position the agency for success. The strategies in our Corporate Plan 2017-18 are about providing the new CEO with the opportunities to make real changes to the business.

I know you will have questions about our relocation, how we are progressing and whether we will see an APVMA operating from Armidale by mid-2019 as planned.

We already have three staff operating from the interim office in Armidale and we are in a position now, where we can support the early relocation of some of our Canberra based employees.

I have had staff come to me, saying they would like to move to Armidale now.

To support these people, we ran an expression of interest for early relocation and there will be a small group moving to Armidale in 2018.

I am able to support these early movers, because I have finalised the staffing policies that support people to relocate.

And I have also settled the policy that supports staff to stay with the APVMA – acknowledging their contributions to the transition and maintaining the knowledge and expertise we need to keep the business running.

The final piece is the e-working policy, which we are consulting on now and we hope to have an agreed position by the end of November.

We have a high-level business operating model now and we’ve been talking to our staff and potential partners about how this may be implemented.

We are working through the Government budget process to implement our Digital Strategy which will focus firstly on stabilising our network and digitising our information, and preparing the agency for e-working.

Procurement for our permanent premises is on track.

We shortlisted providers from an EOI process earlier in the year and the official Request for Proposal has been published to AusTender with notification provided to the four respondents.

I’ve outlined a number of priorities that must be addressed to put the APVMA on a sustainable footing.

There is a lot of reform for an agency of this size and high expectations to deliver.

There’s still more work to be done, and with the support of our dedicated workforce, we’re putting in place the strategies that will better position the agency going forward.

Thank you Chair. 

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