A scathing audit of the pesticides authority shows the Coalition government's decision to move it to Armidale has undermined the beleaguered agency, Labor says.
The ALP joined the CPSU in leaping to the defence of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority on Friday after the national auditor's report found the agency failed to consider the risks its relocation from Canberra posed to staffing.
However Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who has driven the project to move the agency to his New England electorate, says the report reinforces the government's decision.
Labor regional spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said it was unfair of the auditor to scold the pesticides authority for being unprepared for the fallout from the move, because its former boss warned the government about the consequences for staff numbers.
"This information was totally ignored by Barnaby Joyce who has always downplayed the impact that the loss of staff would have on the authority," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
Money for the relocation, estimated at $25.6 million or more, should go to the working of the APVMA if the government wanted a suite of reforms legislated in 2014 to improve its efficiency, he said.
The agency had failed to finish the program of reforms because it was distracted by its relocation.
"Money and staff energy that should be invested into completing the reform program has been directed to try and stop the bleeding of expert staff caused by Barnaby Joyce and his pork barrel."
CPSU deputy national president Rupert Evans called for the government to halt the relocation and warned the damage would soon be "irreparable".
"It's a little ironic that this audit report takes aim at APVMA for not properly considering the risk of wholesale staff departures in the wake of the relocation, because it's blindingly obvious that minister Barnaby Joyce didn't consider those risks either, or didn't care about the damage his decision would cause to Australian agriculture," he said.
Mr Joyce said on Thursday the Australian National Audit Office's findings that reforms had not made the agency more efficient showed why the government needed to intervene.
"The report finds that the ongoing poor culture and governance arrangements have the potential to impact on future reforms and the success of the APVMA's relocation to Armidale, not the other way around," he said.
The national auditor found the pesticides authority was unprepared to manage the risk of staff departures, was resorting to rolling recruitment campaigns to deal with the problem, and had not reduced the cost of regulatory burden on businesses seeking product approvals.
Agency officials told senators in an estimates hearing last month it struggled through May with a 15 per cent staff vacancy rate as it dealt with an influx of work.
Its rate of departing staff reached 19 per cent in 2015-16, dwarfing the APS' average of 7 per cent, as the Nationals promised the New England electorate it would host the APVMA if it re-elected them at the 2016 federal poll.