Senate Estimates March 2020 opening address—Dr Chris Parker

As an independent regulatory authority funded predominantly through cost recovery, the APVMA balances the quality of our regulatory decisions with timeliness, cost and risk.

I was appointed to the position of CEO in June 2017 at a time of considerable upheaval at the APVMA.

I decided to focus on four core pillars:

  • stabilising the financial position of the organisation
  • relocation and its associated physical requirements
  • improving performance including managing staffing and knowledge retention, and
  • modernising the IT system and its infrastructure, including business processes.

The APVMA has recorded significant business-as-usual operating losses since 2013–14.

Efficiency measures, coupled with the financial sustainability plan I implemented in 2017–18, have mitigated against the APVMA realising even greater business-as-usual operating losses, despite real-cost increases across the agency’s operations.

In parallel with the effort to increase efficiency and reduce expenses, we have been seeking to maximise revenues.

Recently, concerted efforts by staff recovered about $1.2 million in unpaid fees.

Separately, I took the decision to limit the number of staff to less than 183, down from the forecast 190 in the 2018–19 Portfolio Budget Statement.

This has returned about $1.8 million to the budget.

On 3 June 2019, the APVMA finalised its move to its new purpose-built office accommodation in Armidale, ahead of schedule and within budget.

This was a significant milestone for the authority and marked a new chapter for the APVMA.

Moreover, the remaining staff in Canberra (about 40) will soon relocate to a smaller office.

Taken together, the relatively cheaper lease costs in Armidale, and the smaller office footprint in Canberra, have reduced the APVMA’s annual rental expenses by about 20 per cent, or $366,000.

Our performance has continued to improve.

In the June 2017 quarter, 41 per cent of major product registration applications were processed on time. This has almost doubled to 80 per cent in the December 2019 quarter.

Overall, the APVMA has finalised 87 per cent of all applications within timeframe in the December 2019 quarter, up from 58 per cent in the June 2017 quarter.

In the same period we have reduced the number of overdue major applications from 223 to 50.

Furthermore, in the past two years, the APVMA has reduced the average time taken to process an application to 5.7 months—a reduction of two months compared with assessments completed in 2016–17.

We continue to take immediate regulatory action to manage the human health and safety, and risks to the animals and the environment.

In August 2019, we made final regulatory decisions on methiocarb, which was followed in September by a final regulatory decision in relation to home garden and domestic products containing chlorpyrifos.

In October 2019, we published the proposed regulatory decision for 2,4D.

We have also announced reviews of neonicotinoids, and we have had voluntary cancellation of a couple of other products, all of which is good work associated with our Chemical Review functions.

The APVMA’s Enabling Technology program is moving us to a modern business system and process model, building on the work underway to stabilise our existing systems and migrate to a cloud-based environment.

The program remains on track to deliver the objectives of our Digital Strategy: infrastructure stabilisation, digitisation, modernisation and transformation.

On 12 December 2019, I announced my decision to resign as CEO.

I had inherited an agency that faced significant challenges. Challenges that have received considerable public airing.

I leave the APVMA in a stronger position, having reformed it to provide world-class chemical regulation and working to make sure the cost of operations is appropriately reflected in the fees, levies and charges.

As the APVMA moves forward, it is better positioned to deliver efficient, effective, timely, and science-based decisions that are proportionate to the risks being managed.

APVMA staff are professional, and committed.

Their positivity, their expertise and skill will be vital to the agency’s continued success as a world class regulator.

The APVMA has emerged from the process of relocation with a bright future, with many opportunities, and I have every confidence agency staff will grasp those opportunities, and rise to the challenges.

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