A controversial plan to move a pesticides agency to the electorate of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce could cause the agriculture industry to lose up to $193 million a year, a damning analysis has found.
An independent cost-benefit analysis of the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, which Mr Joyce has fought hard against releasing, warns there's a high chance it could take up to five years to recruit and train regulatory scientists needed to approve key agricultural chemicals.
That could "damage the reputation of the APVMA and Australian agricultural industry", the Ernst & Young report says.
If the agency is unable to keep up with the rate of new product approvals, it could lead to yearly losses of up to $193 million in crop values and up to $2.7 million in revenue for the chemicals industry.
Another consequence would be the exit of key chemical companies from the Australian market and the subsequent loss of future product releases.
Crucially, the report says there is no material economic benefit of the agency being close to farmers and other agricultural researchers, one of the reasons behind Mr Joyce's relocation proposal.
The Nationals leader on Friday confirmed the agency would move to the University of New England's Armidale campus over a six-year period and at a cost of $25 million.
It came after the government bypassed parliamentary approval of the relocation by using extraordinary regulations to make the move happen.
That order stipulates any corporate commonwealth entity with agricultural policy responsibilities must be located in a regional community or close to a regional university's main campus if it's recognised in the field of agricultural science.
The report also warns of:
- a loss of 365 jobs in Canberra;
- $4.4 million in costs to replace staff, plus significant training costs;
- the agency not being able to relocate, recruit or replace key executives, management and technical assessment staff;
- the agency having reduced access to stakeholders; and
- the loss of technical staff potentially "seriously disrupting" the ability of the agency to fulfil its purpose.
The report also confirms the reluctance of a majority of crucial regulatory scientists to move - only four staff have indicated a willingness to relocate from Canberra.
The peak body for the agricultural chemical industry said the move would have negative consequences for Australian farming productivity.
"Just relocation in itself doesn't achieve anything except interrupting the efforts being made by the APVMA to improve regulatory efficiency," CropLife chief Matthew Cossey said.
Mr Joyce played down the report, saying there's nothing exceptional or remarkable about its findings.
It passed the pub test, he believed.
"What you have to have is a sense of vision," he told reporters in Armidale.
"If you did a cost-benefit analysis on the Sydney Opera House, well (you can say) that doesn't pay for itself either."
He was adamant the move puts the agency at the heart of where "boots hit the dirt" in country Australia.
A temporary office will be set up by March 2017 and a new advisory committee will help staff who don't want to go.