24 October 2022

Logistical lessons: The sky-high price of moving a whole department

| Chris Johnson
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New Tax Office

An artist’s impression of the ATO’s new offices. Photo: DOMA.

Federal departments and agencies are on the move, with a number of new leases signed for premises being either vacated by current tenants, or for offices yet to be built.

Beyond the cost of leases, there is also a huge price tag for relocating a whole department.

For some agencies, the moves are two to three years away, but for others, it’s more imminent.

But all of them are deathly silent about how much these moves are costing the taxpayer. It’s a good thing there are such things as annual reports.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry workshopped its response to Region’s media inquiry for more than 24 hours before a departmental spokesperson simply said: “Our new Canberra office is on track for completion in late October. Staff will begin to move into the new building from November 2022. The new lease agreement will achieve savings for the Commonwealth over the life of the lease.”

Two years ago, it was reported that the Ag department planned to move from its Marcus Clarke Street headquarters (and other locations) to the 12-storey Civic Quarter 2 building being constructed.

Beyond the cost of the lease, the department planned a $78 million fitout. That was a lot of taxpayer dollars being discussed, and that’s before the actual moving costs.

The debacle of Barnaby Joyce’s insistence that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority move from Canberra to Armidale just a few years back came with a price tag of $26 million – and not everything went to plan there.

More currently, it has been revealed that the ABC will spend $50 million to move 75 staff from its Ultimo headquarters in Sydney 25 km down the M4 to Parramatta.

READ ALSO Tax office to leave Canberra CBD for new Barton headquarters

In Canberra, the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Education, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, the Australian Electoral Commission, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry are among those with firm plans to relocate headquarters but stay within the ACT.

Region’s calculations, based on industry data and conversations within the sector, conservatively put the cost to the taxpayer of these moves alone in the vicinity of half a billion dollars.

That’s just for relocating to and outfitting of new premises.

The figure doesn’t include the cost of the actual lease contracts, which may well (as our friends at the Ag Dept suggest) end up cost-effective in the very long term.

No, this hefty price tag is purely for moving bodies and furniture, procurement of new furniture and internal infrastructure, ICT preparedness, and consultants to advise on every step of the transition.

READ ALSO Commanding city corner move for three federal departments/agencies after land sale

A simple name change or merging of departments and agencies, as happens with every machinery of government announcement, comes with its own cost.

A MoG can be expensive even without a relocation, just for the costs of rebranding and new imagery.

That price tag has lowered a little in recent times with less use of and reliance on printing materials. It’s largely electronic these days.

So you would think that rebranding shouldn’t be an expensive exercise. The people at the BoM recently found out otherwise.

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Using taxpayer dollars to move, buy new furniture, change letterhead and other doco – where’s the accountability ? Where’s the cost/benefits ?

Tom Worthington4:31 pm 24 Oct 22

The ATO’s new building looks a lot like the ANU’s Hanna Neumann Building. I hope not too much was spent on this “original” design. One thing which appears to be missing from the design are concrete flower pots, and street furniture, set back from the building, to stop truck bombs.

In any case, given most staff can work from home most of the time, and at a satellite office shared by the APS most of the rest, is there any need, and any cost, in “relocating” a government department?

Government staff all work for the one employer, the APS. Provided security requirements are met, there is no need for each agency to have its own building. Staff can work in whichever building happens to be convenient.

If the leadership of a department wants to have a bespoke fit-out for their offices, I suggest this be deducted from their pay, as it is not something required to get the work done.

The government staff are the APS and they are employed by the government to assist with running the operations of the government. They are not employed by the APS.

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