Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Opinion

Expert strata, facilities & building management services

Moving public servants out of Canberra simply doesn’t add up

By Tara Cheyne MLA - 28 April 2017 11

It’s been just over a week since Nationals Senator Fiona Nash announced a policy of Australian Public Service ‘decentralisation’, where portfolio ministers will need to justify why their departments and agencies shouldn’t be moved out to regional areas.

In this time it’s become clear that the policy hasn’t been properly thought out. A proposed ‘template’ for ministers to complete hasn’t yet been drafted. The justification has to occur by August but decisions won’t be made until December. Nash says all portfolio ministers need to be part of this process, but her colleague Barnaby Joyce says whole departments won’t be moved and has named some which are staying. Confusion and uncertainty reigns.

Six months ago I was a federal public servant. Like many, I’d moved to Canberra to give a graduate program a go and, before I knew it, Canberra had become my home and my life.

Six months ago I wouldn’t have spoken out. I would have been worried about potential backlash. This is true for many today – I know because many Canberrans have contacted me privately to tell me so.

And while I’m not a federal public servant anymore, I still keenly understand the issues. I will continue to be a voice for those who feel they cannot speak up. So, here’s my view about why moving public servants out of Canberra makes no sense.

Let’s start with the obvious one. Canberra is the nation’s capital. We are the natural home of the Australian public service. Our federal parliament meets here and that means this is where the ministers are. Former Prime Minister Menzies realised the value of this.

If we’ve got one Department in X location, one Department in Y, one Department in Z and so on then we really risk undermining both the efficiency and the overall effectiveness of the public service into the future as well as the responsiveness to Government.

Departments are not silos. Departments work together and meet regularly. Many Departments have embraced technology and do a lot of work via phone, tele- and video-conference, but there are times when nothing beats a face to face meeting. So, a decentralised public service will mean that meeting with ministers and between Departments will require an enormous amount of travel. And an enormous amount of travel equals an enormous cost to the taxpayer.

Having Departments centralised allows for skills transfer as people move between them to gain more experience while ensuring that corporate knowledge is retained within the public service. As someone who came to Canberra as a graduate, one of the appealing things was that I could have a career as a public servant in this city, not a career as an employee of X Department and X Department only. This has potential to affect the calibre of public servants the APS attracts in the future. It doesn’t add up.

I’m all for creating jobs in regional areas. I grew up in towns of less than 5000 people in Central Queensland and I know the value of job creation. But this isn’t about job creation at all. This is about robbing Peter to pay Paul. This is about moving jobs and moving people – people whose lives are entangled in Canberra. Not every public servant is in a relationship with another public servant, so couples are forced to make hard decisions – or it could add pressure to scare jobs in these regional areas. Children and families have to consider uprooting their lives – their schools, their sporting clubs, their friends. Families will be forced to choose between their jobs and their communities.

I don’t know if I could do it. If it were me, I’d look to move to another Department which is staying in Canberra. I’m not alone. And what that leads to is attrition. We only need to look to the APVMA and the staff it’s already lost to get a sense of what’s to come on a much bigger scale. Whole Departments will lose years of skill, years of experience, years of capability and knowledge.

And then there’s the trickle-down effect. Announcing this policy without significant detail but with a long, drawn-out timeframe will result in a degree of uncertainty in our economy. The ACT economy has diversified and we are a great hub of innovation and small businesses going from strength to strength, but that’s off the back of a strong public sector.

We only need to cast our minds back to a few years ago when the Department of Immigration was toying with moving entirely out of the Belconnen Town Centre. It caused a great degree of uncertainty in the community – and the proposal then was to move it to the other side of the city, not entirely out of Canberra. It was only through a concerted campaign and political support from all sides that led to the Department maintaining a footprint in Belconnen.

The federal Government should have learnt its lesson then.

Politically, functionally, economically and, most importantly, on a fundamental human impact level moving public servants out of Canberra doesn’t add up.

Are you a federal public servant? How would your Department moving out of Canberra impact you? Could you choose between your job and your community?

Caption: Tara Cheyne pictured in 2009 after completing a graduate program in the federal public service.

What’s Your opinion?


Post a comment
Please login to post your comments, or connect with
11 Responses to
Moving public servants out of Canberra simply doesn’t add up
1
dungfungus 11:43 am
28 Apr 17
#

Can you explain why the NDIS was set up in Geelong instead of Canberra?

Potentially, this agency will be one of the biggest spender of taxpayer revenue so wouldn’t it be a good idea to have it close to treasury and finance?

2
Queanbeyanite 4:28 pm
28 Apr 17
#

It might not suit the CPSU but it does for the National Party whose constituency lives in the regions.
That ‘strong public sector’ is paid for by the rest of the country, and very likely our grandchildren, keep borrowing an extra $200 million a week to add to the existing $475 Billion debt.
You can’t continue to give yourselves annual 4% pay rises when the rest of the country is taking a pay cut and forced into part time work.

3
HiddenDragon 5:15 pm
28 Apr 17
#

While it shouldn’t, of course…….., have anything to do with decisions about the location and relocation of federal government functions, LNP governments could be forgiven for looking at the ACT and concluding that this is, in a political sense, enemy-occupied territory. In the 43 years since the ACT has had two (and briefly, three) federal electorates, Canberrans have elected one Liberal MP from 1975 to 1980, and another from 1995 to 1996 – and that’s it.

4
JC 12:00 am
29 Apr 17
#

Queanbeyanite said :

It might not suit the CPSU but it does for the National Party whose constituency lives in the regions.
That ‘strong public sector’ is paid for by the rest of the country, and very likely our grandchildren, keep borrowing an extra $200 million a week to add to the existing $475 Billion debt.
You can’t continue to give yourselves annual 4% pay rises when the rest of the country is taking a pay cut and forced into part time work.

Who has been getting 4% pay rises? It sure the hell ain’t (non SES) public servants who for the most part have had an effective pay cut over the past 4 years.

5
Tara Cheyne MLA 8:38 am
29 Apr 17
#

JC said :

Queanbeyanite said :

It might not suit the CPSU but it does for the National Party whose constituency lives in the regions.
That ‘strong public sector’ is paid for by the rest of the country, and very likely our grandchildren, keep borrowing an extra $200 million a week to add to the existing $475 Billion debt.
You can’t continue to give yourselves annual 4% pay rises when the rest of the country is taking a pay cut and forced into part time work.

Who has been getting 4% pay rises? It sure the hell ain’t (non SES) public servants who for the most part have had an effective pay cut over the past 4 years.

Spot on. I’m not sure where you’re getting your figures from Queanbeyanite. To give the example of my old Department, AGD:
– its previous EA expired in 2014 with the last pay rise (of 2 per cent) occurring in 2013
– it didn’t get a new EA until 2016 (so three years of no pay increase)
– the 2016 agreement had a pay increase of 3 per cent on commencement, 2 per cent in 2017 and 1 per cent in 2018 – or 6 per cent over three years.
And that agreement only came about through a lot of negotiation and hard work. Some departments still don’t have a new EA in place since theirs expired many years ago.

And if you think the federal budget is costing the country a lot now, decentralising the public service certainly isn’t going to help.

6
Spiral 3:20 pm
29 Apr 17
#

There was an article in the news a couple of weeks ago stating travel for public servants cost nearly half a billion dollars in the previous financial year.

I wonder what that will reach if the Nationals get their way?

7
Raging Tempest 6:06 pm
29 Apr 17
#

The great irony is that prior to the cuts to the APS there were more offices in regional areas that got ‘centralised’ to the metro centres, where 60% of the APS still is.

8
Tara Cheyne MLA 2:43 pm
30 Apr 17
#

dungfungus said :

Can you explain why the NDIS was set up in Geelong instead of Canberra?

Potentially, this agency will be one of the biggest spender of taxpayer revenue so wouldn’t it be a good idea to have it close to treasury and finance?

I think the distinct difference between the NDIA and what the Nationals are proposing is that the former is about creating jobs and the latter is about shifting jobs.

9
Tara Cheyne MLA 2:43 pm
30 Apr 17
#

For those who are interested, I’ve got a petition here: taracheyne.com.au/APSJobsPetition

10
dungfungus 3:20 pm
30 Apr 17
#

Tara Cheyne MLA said :

dungfungus said :

Can you explain why the NDIS was set up in Geelong instead of Canberra?

Potentially, this agency will be one of the biggest spender of taxpayer revenue so wouldn’t it be a good idea to have it close to treasury and finance?

I think the distinct difference between the NDIA and what the Nationals are proposing is that the former is about creating jobs and the latter is about shifting jobs.

But overriding that is your claim:

“Canberra is the nation’s capital. We are the natural home of the Australian public service. Our federal parliament meets here and that means this is where the ministers are. Former Prime Minister Menzies realised the value of this.”

So how about you start a petition to have the NDIA moved to Canberra instead.

11
oh_ 9:31 pm
04 May 17
#

Thanks Tara for sticking up for us, some additional points :
1) How is it supposed to create jobs for regional people if you are just moving other people from a city into their town? Moving jobs from one community to another is not net growth or new jobs.
2) Canberra is the regional hub for SE NSW, there are enormous economic and social spillovers in services, jobs, tourism, business etc across the border every day.
3) The ACT Government has gone to great effort to partner the capital region through the Canberra Region Joint Organisation with surrounding councils including Hilltops/Young (Ms Nash’s home). The Mayor of Hilltops has praised our tourism collaboration and opportunities with the new direct international flights.
4) Costs (buildings, IT/security, redundancies) vs benefits (?) don’t stack up. Also if the thinking is people can be paid at a lower level because regions are cheaper, tax receipts will be less.
5) The ACT was created to be the designated national capital per s125 of the Constitution. Maybe the Nats’ plan is unconstitutional? That is part of the reason we are not pushing for Statehood like the NT (http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/act-chief-minister-andrew-barr-will-not-push-for-statehood-20150723-giix65.html). We are in effect the ‘neutral umpire’ and also have the lowest representation in Federal Parliament on a population basis.
6) Regional development is a good thing by all means but it should be new industries and new jobs and come as part of a proper thought through plan, and that requires proper investment in infrastructure (like say the NBN, transport links, decent services etc). Plenty of regional towns could host new industries like solar or wind farms for example, if the Feds believed in it (Albany in WA with 30 000 people is 100% wind powered).

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2017 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.

Search across the site