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Australia

APVMA's $1.5m redundancy pay-out as 50 more staff to exit

The pesticides authority expects its pay-out bill to reach $1.5 million after offering voluntary redundancies to staff still in Canberra and unable to follow it north to Armidale.

Fifty public servants have a choice to accept the offers or seek redeployment to other federal agencies after the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority could not find roles for them in the national capital beyond the forced relocation's finish in mid-2019.

Senators at an estimates hearing on Tuesday heard the figures after Agriculture Department officials earlier said their agency was cooperating with police rebooting an investigation into the 2016 arson attack at the site later chosen to host the regulator in Armidale.

Agency chief executive Chris Parker, speaking at a Senate estimates hearing, said it offered the voluntary redundancies in February after it could not find jobs for 50 Canberra-based staff unable to move to Armidale. Two have rejected the offer and are seeking redeployment, while about 23 other public servants have accepted a redundancy package.

Dr Parker said he expected about 25 staff in total would accept a voluntary redundancy and the pay-out bill would be covered by $26 million in funding allocated to the agency for its move to northern NSW.

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Construction on its new building was on schedule and expected to meet a deadline letting the regulator finish the move to its new offices by mid-year, when it will have 40 staff still working permanently in Canberra and about 135 in Armidale.

The agency now has 133 staff still in Canberra and 72 in Armidale.

Dr Parker said it was undeniable the authority had lost staff during its relocation but that it had since found experienced recruits.

Between the Coalition's November 2016 order moving the agency and January 2019, it lost 41 regulatory scientists with a combined 230 years in experience. It had also recruited 48 new scientists who had 299 years in collective experience.

"The move has provided us with opportunities for renewal of our business. We've gained some highly experienced and energetic individuals," Dr Parker said.

Both pesticides authority and Agriculture Department officials said NSW Police had contacted them as it looked again at the unsolved arson attack that destroyed venue The Armidale Club, which used to occupy the site of the regulator's new building at 91 Beardy Street.

Dr Parker said police had asked him for background information about government procurement processes. He provided them a timeline of the agency's tender process seeking a new location in Armidale.

Agriculture Department officials said they had not sought advice from minister David Littleproud about the police investigation, and Dr Parker said his agency had not received legal advice about police requests.

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