Two female bosses quit Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority

Two female bosses quit after damning report reveals employee URINATED on co-workers at out-of-control Christmas party

  • Review into Australia’s agricultural chemicals watchdog 
  • The report found widespread ‘cultural issues’ in the agency 
  • The board chair and CEO resigned in wake of the report

Two top executives at Australia’s agricultural chemicals regulator have resigned after a damning report exposed a series of staff incidents including an employee who urinated on colleagues at a Christmas party. 

A review of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) ordered by Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and released on Friday found ‘clear cultural issues’ within the organisation.

The APVMA’s chair Dr Carrie Hillyard and chief executive Lisa Croft have both stepped down in recent days with the review finding the organisation had failed to respond appropriately to complaints or keep adequate records.

The reviewer, law firm Clayton Utz, said the urination incident was just one of many that plagued the APVMA. 

‘There were clearly cultural issues with the organisation given that on average there was a formal complaint about once every 4-6 weeks for five years,’ the report stated.

Lisa Croft

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority chair Dr Carrie Hillyard (left) and chief executive Lisa Croft (right) have both stepped down in recent days

Clayton Utz said the complaints were spread through the ‘entire organisation’ and were made by and about employees at all levels.

‘There are also a significant number of complaints that refer to serious impacts for the persons involved, including numerous instances of employees having to take periods of stress leave or feeling unable to attend work due to mental health concerns.’

The urination incident following the APVMA’s 2021 Christmas party was referred to police and the public service commissioner by Senator Watt in February.

Senator Watt said in a press conference on Friday in addition to the widespread complaints, the report found allegations the AVPMA could have been compromised by close ties with the chemicals industry. 

‘The number and range of issues at the APVMA have turned out to be far wider than I think any of us expected,’ Senator Watt said.

‘Concerningly, the review found serious allegations of chemical industry capture of the APVMA, which appears to have played a key role in the organisation not performing its full regulatory responsibilities.’

Agriculture Minister Senator Murray Watt ordered the review into the organisation

Agriculture Minister Senator Murray Watt ordered the review into the organisation 

The report said the government watchdog would use education as an enforcement measure when criminal or civil prosecution was recommended and had ’embedded’ industry interests into its priorities and culture. 

The report also found the watchdog had eight chemical reviews that have been in progress for more than 15 years.

However, the review determined there was no indication chemical products had been inappropriately registered.

In 2016, former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce moved the APVMA from Canberra to Armidale within his New England electorate, with the report finding the significantly contributed to a collapse in the organisation’s culture. 

‘The APVMA had a very significant turnover of staff, including a change in CEO, associated with the relocation,’ the report said.

‘This turnover of staff would have inevitably resulted in a loss of corporate knowledge, a loss of corporate culture and a loss of experience and knowledge of what it is to work within the Australian Public Service.’

Senator Watt has issued a directive that the ongoing chemical reviews be completed ‘as soon as possible’ and that a fresh inquiry be carried out into how to repair the APVMA’s culture and governance.

He said initial findings had sparked personal fears food safety could be compromised in the future if issues raised were not dealt with. 

An acting CEO and interim Board Chair are in place with the government set to review those positions later this year.