It is difficult to know where to start with such an embarrassment as Barnaby Joyce. Not only is he an embarrassment to the National Party (and that is saying something), he is also an embarrassment to the government, and to the nation.
He is one of those politicians who make you realise what has gone horribly wrong with Australian politics. He, like many politicians, is only concerned with himself. This is clearly shown by his efforts to move the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to his electorate, in a disgraceful show of pork barrelling*. This is seemingly a weak effort at staving off any further threat from the popular Tony Windsor, who he had difficulty defeating in the last Federal election. It is also aimed at holding off One Nation, which is on the rise, largely at the expense of the Nationals.
Even the Productivity Commission determined that government assistance to struggling regions should focus on promoting employment skills and retraining, while forced relocations of public service jobs were often ineffective and were not aligned to the strengths of local communities. Indeed, a cost benefit analysis undertaken by the government showed that there was no economic benefit from the relocation from Canberra to Armidale1. Indeed, it will cost the taxpayer $26 million in moving costs, and will cost the Canberra economy $157 million (This is just a bonus as Federal conservative politicians hate the people of Canberra). The organisation will also require a new office block to be built in Armidale to house the staff, as no suitable buildings in the town are available. In addition, it seems likely that only a small proportion of the APVMA regulatory scientists will move. Despite all this, it seems that Turnbull has acquiesced to this wasteful exercise, indicating who really runs the joint party room2.
Over 30% of the staff of the APVMA have left, with 20 of the 100 regulatory scientists having already quit the organisation, as well as 28 other employees, despite the generous enticements to stay. The APVMA expects 50 or 60 of its staff to stay in Canberra, working from home, but Joyce’s policy bans them from having an office anywhere in Canberra or at any other facility where they could gather3. This is simply a bizarre restriction on their work. Positions to replace those who have left have been advertised, but for some of them, nobody has applied.
Already it has harmed the AVPMA’s work program, with approvals falling far behind the rate projected. The approval rate has halved in the last six months. Going from 83% down to 42%, with the approval of crop protection products being hit particularly hard over the same interval, down from 82% to 30%. The Agricultural Chemical Industry peak body CropLife said these were the worst figures in the authority’s history and that it showed the relocation was affecting its performance, which in turn was putting farmers at a disadvantage compared to their competitors overseas. The CropLife CEO has urged the government to reconsider the move, warning that delays in the approvals ran the risk of significant losses of revenue, and that the government should consider compensation for these losses4. In what can only be construed as a Sean Spicer impression, a spokesman for Joyce said the drop in performance showed the authority needed to move. I expect the Trumpesque Joyce had not factored this decline in approvals into his costings.
APVMA CEO, Kareena Arthy, resigned to join the ACT public service, which is unsurprising given that while in Armidale, she and some of her senior APVMA colleagues had to work in a McDonald’s restaurant because it had free Wi-Fi1.
This move is such a stupid exercise and Joyce is so transparently desperate that it has come to a stage where ‘scripts’ for ‘after-work conversations’ were given to the remaining staff at the APVMA. These were so idiotic, that they were lampooned by ‘The Feed’, using the talking points verbatim. Because the reality is so ludicrously inept, satire such as this, where almost no comedic embellishment is required, is as damning as it gets5.
Joyce has argued that services such as the APVMA should be among the people it serves. However, this move to Armidale has nothing to do with efficiency or any closeness to its client base, as the APVMA deals not with farmers and graziers. Its dealings are predominantly with chemical and pharmaceutical companies, with agencies at national and state level and other regulatory bodies. A move to Armidale would also increase the amount, distance and cost of travel, as staff will have to regularly return to Canberra to deal with bureaucrats and politicians6. Even if the APVMA did deal with farmers and graziers as Joyce suggested, it is perhaps worth noting that Armidale is just as far away from most farms in Australia as is Canberra.
When an organisation like this is told to move, it disrupts lives. The people who work there have partners who have careers, circles of friends, families, children who attend school and who also have circles of friends. However, Joyce has no concern for these public servants, for in the conservative mind public servants are merely scum. They, their families and their careers matter not one iota to Joyce. What best serves this nation and its people, is of no concern to him. His only concern is what is best for Barnaby and his re-election in a couple of years. That is all that matters to him. And politicians wonder why they are held in such low esteem.
*Pork-barrelling: misappropriation of taxpayer funds for local projects designed solely to enhance the local politician’s electoral standing.