1 March 2021

Move public servants from Sydney and Melbourne, don't single out Canberra, says Barr

| Dominic Giannini
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Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr says the Commonwealth Government should not single out Canberra with its decentralisation policy. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Commonwealth Government should move Australian public service (APS) jobs from cities like Sydney and Melbourne instead of singling out Canberra if it wants to continue its decentralisation policy, Chief Minister Andrew Barr told a committee hearing last week.

While moving certain Commonwealth Departments to regional centres to help boost local economies and jobs was a noble target, the ACT should not have to bear the brunt of the policy’s economic implications, Mr Barr said.

Almost 38 per cent of the APS workforce is based in Canberra, amounting to 56,600 jobs, around a quarter of the ACT’s workforce.

“If that percentage were to drop to 35 or 30, then you start getting into some significant economic implications,” Mr Barr said.

“If your average Commonwealth public servant is on a salary of $85,000 to $100,000, each public servant that goes is that amount of money out of the economy plus their partners and household.

“If you take a significant portion of that out of Canberra, it would have flow-on effects. That would mean less income in the city, less money which would be spent in business, less demand for a variety of goods and services.”

Mr Barr said Sydney and Melbourne, which have a high concentration of Commonwealth employment, should be the focus of the Commonwealth’s decentralisation policy instead.

NSW hosts almost 18 per cent of the APS, or 26,700 jobs, while Victoria has just over 17 per cent, or 25,900, according to Australian Public Service Commission employment data released on 30 June 2020.

This amounts to around 0.65 and 0.75 per cent of the respective state’s workforces.

Mr Barr also said he was pleasantly surprised by the number of public servants who refused to move from Canberra, even though their department or job was being relocated.

“Even if their agency has moved, they quit and go and try and find another job in Canberra, they will not be relocated to Armidale, for example,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development Michael McCormack has been contacted for comment.

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How can Mr Barr tax them if their not here? Seems logical that the public service can be based anywhere, COVID seems to have proven work from home or anywhere else is good.

HiddenDragon8:55 pm 02 Mar 21

Difficult to see anything more than token efforts at decentralisation in future, but video conferencing and working from home, even with their known drawbacks, weaken the argument that officials need to be proximate to related agencies and the politicians they answer to.

The greater threat to APS spending in Canberra is likely to be the search for savings to begin the recovery from the virus-related explosion in budget outlays (noting here that Labor was frequently critical of debt and deficits under this government prior to the virus), and the related options of devolution and rationalisation of commonwealth – state roles and responsibilities. The latter has always proven difficult to translate from theory to practice, but there is that old saying about never wasting a crisis…….

Rob Taglienti4:55 pm 02 Mar 21

Not sure I agree with Mr Barr…Canberra currently has a housing issue that hasn’t been addressed. Getting rid of a few PS jobs would probably help.

More like “Don’t take away my voter base that can have unions spew propaganda at them before elections!”

This would be truly hilarious.

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