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Taxpayers to be slugged for home networks of public servants left behind by APVMA move

Taxpayers will have to foot a bill worth many millions of dollars for a computer network linking the homes of Canberra public servants left behind by the forced relocation of the pesticides authority to Armidale.

As a Parliamentary inquiry into the bitterly contested "decentralization" of the agency begins in Canberra on Tuesday, Labor says the move will cost taxpayers much more than the officially estimated $26 million.

Nearly $300,000 has already been put aside just to develop a business case for the "digital strategy" underpinning the move of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to the New England electorate of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

The strategy is about setting up a secure computer network linking the Canberra houses of dozens of APVMA regulatory scientists who are flatly refusing to leave the capital and start their lives again in regional NSW.

The only way the authority will  be able to continue to operate, once the forced move to Armidale gets underway, is to keep the highly trained specialists on the books, allowing them to work "remotely" from their colleagues who have gone north.

But Mr Joyce has decreed that there can be no APVMA office in Canberra, leaving a costly secure network linking the public servants' homes as the only option.

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With key stakeholders preparing to give evidence to the committee in Canberra on Tuesday, Labor's agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon was blunt about his objectives for the inquiry.

"Make no mistake, our objective in calling this inquiry unequivocally is to stop this relocation in its tracks," the Labor frontbencher told Fairfax.

"To demonstrate so clearly that its going to be such a bad thing for agriculture and for consumers, that Malcolm Turnbull will be forced to finally stand up to Barnaby Joyce and stop this great waste of taxpayers money."

Mr Fitzgibbon said the "digital strategy" was just one example of how he expected the costs of the move spiral out of control. 

"We know it will far it will far exceed $26 million and be so very harmful," he said.

"It is already causing harm in the agricultural sector." 

APVMA chief executive Kareena Arthy, confirmed the digital strategy was in the planning phase but said she did not know how much it would cost.

"The APVMA in Armidale Relocation Strategy outlines the different phases of the relocation," Ms Arthy said.

"We are currently in the planning phase, with one of the key deliverables being the development of a comprehensive digital strategy by 30 June,"  

"The aim of the strategy is to enhance the online delivery of our regulatory services to provide flexibility for how we operate in Armidale, with parts of our workforce being able to work remotely, and to provide better client service.  

  "In March, we appointed an Executive Director Digital Strategy who is preparing the detailed business case for the digital strategy, including full costings, for Government consideration.  

"Until that work is done, we are unable to provide further information about the expected total costs of the project.

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