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PM Tony to shift your job north of the 20th parallel?

johnboy 7 February 2013 51

The NT News is very excited by Liberal Plans to move public service departments to a new Australia in the far north.

Labor Senator Kate Lundy is asking the warring local liberal factions what they think of this plan?

Today Tony Abbott has let the cat out of the bag on his plan to force people to move to the most remote parts of the country to find work.

In recent days, Gary Humphries and Zed Seselja have been scrambling over each other to prove who will be the best ‘champion’ for Canberra residents under an Abbott-led government.

Well, this is their first test.

The test for Senator Humphries and Mr Seselja is simple: will they rule out supporting Tony Abbott’s plan for compulsory relocations of Canberra public servants to northern Australia?

No reply as yet.


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PM Tony to shift your job north of the 20th parallel?
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Mr Evil 1:54 pm 09 Feb 13

PM said :

Mr Evil said :

Look at it this way – it’s a vote winner in region/remote areas – but it really isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

If it was easy to move large chunks of the APS to places like Darwin, I am sure Howard would have done it years ago.

Also, isn’t the NT News known for reporting UFO sightings on the front page?

Can’t be worse than the Crimes

Are you for real?

As if the Canberra Times would publish a story about UFOs on the front page. They’d much rather put that kind of story in a special lift-out, with commentry supplied by Tim the Yowie Man.

PM 11:20 am 09 Feb 13

Mr Evil said :

Look at it this way – it’s a vote winner in region/remote areas – but it really isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

If it was easy to move large chunks of the APS to places like Darwin, I am sure Howard would have done it years ago.

Also, isn’t the NT News known for reporting UFO sightings on the front page?

Can’t be worse than the Crimes

Mr Evil 10:24 am 09 Feb 13

Look at it this way – it’s a vote winner in region/remote areas – but it really isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

If it was easy to move large chunks of the APS to places like Darwin, I am sure Howard would have done it years ago.

Also, isn’t the NT News known for reporting UFO sightings on the front page?

toriness 9:36 am 09 Feb 13

vauxhall said :

bd84 said :

From all accounts, it’s nowhere close to being a “plan”. But I’m sure the media will beat it up and labor will jump up and down in a poor attempt to clutch to power.

Actually Tony Abbott was on the news saying it’s a plan and not a policy.

Either way, madness! More of this for the lols please

+ 1,000,000

Samuel Gordon-Stewart 9:13 am 09 Feb 13

Actually, scratch that last comment about my comment getting cut off. Looks like my browser is playing tricks on me. Sorry.

Samuel Gordon-Stewart 9:12 am 09 Feb 13

It looks like the rest of my comment got cut off because I accidentally double clicked “submit”.

As I said earlier, placing public servants closer to the people they work with has varying benefits depending on the case. To use your example of foreign aid, that depends on the place as some governments are more interested than others in helping their people…but I have no doubt that people on the ground in foreign countries have a better idea of where aid is needed than people who are not located in those areas. Slightly off-topic, but I believe that all foreign aid should be overseen by one of our own people on the ground. The receiving country should have input in to where and how the aid occurs, but it should be conditional on our public servants overseeing it to ensure that the aid is provided in a way which we support.

And while it may not be necessary to live through a flood in order to help with the cleanup, it certainly helps with understanding the problems. I also think having certain departments closer to the people with which they work (such as Primary Industries closer to farmers) would allow for more open discussions between the public and private sectors, benefiting everyone.

All of that said, I think we are disagreeing on fundamental issues of the correct role and scope of government, and even the role, scope and responsibilities of the public service, so I am happy to politely agree to disagree.

Samuel Gordon-Stewart 9:06 am 09 Feb 13

mezza76 said :

But it doesn’t. They aren’t ‘extra’ people…they are people moving from one economic area to another. So unless they are all unemployed to begin with – you’re not ‘creating’ anything. You are simply removing economic activity from one area to another.

They are “extra people” to the regions to which they are moved, and if those areas have a small population, then you only need to move a small number of people there to create quite an increase in economic activity…and certainly to create more of a benefit to those areas than a loss to the highly-populated area which they came from. Of course, I was talking about moving entire departments or sections of departments, so the economics are a bit different, but on the whole I think the benefits for other areas would far outweigh the costs for Canberra, especially when you consider than many private sector ancillary services for government (data centres, for one example) would remain in Canberra.

This brings me to another point.

dpm said :

As mezza said:”Why is economic activity in Canberra [considered] worse than economic activity in Cairns? Why should the country spend considerable funds moving this economic activity from one location to another? There is no net benefit to the consumer [i.e Australia overall, which the Federal govt would be focused on – not one or two jurisdictions].”

Further, you mentioned in your original tome: “but the public service does not exist to keep Canberra economy ticking over”.
So, how does that fit with: “I think the north would benefit the most at this point in time from some economic development which would result from a bunch of extra people suddenly living there”.
i.e What if we replace ‘Canberra’ in your first quote with ‘Cairns’? Basically, you’re confusing me! Then again, i’m a bit simple!

“The north” is not one place, and I did not suggest moving all of Canberra’s public servants to one place (or moving all of Canberra’s public servants for that matter). Canberra’s economy can still be strong with a few less public servants here (especially if local government helps to make conditions favourable for the private sector) and many other areas of the country can grow more easily if a few public servants go to a bunch of places and, by virtue of their presence, increase the economic demand on the private sector.

Canberra’s economy would be stronger if it had more reliance on private sector investment, production etc, rather than EL staff spending money within Canberra. Having an economy which is heavily reliant on the spending habits of public servants (or government spending in general, for that matter) causes it to be entirely dependent on the whims of politicians. Also, having a town like Canberra which depends heavily on executive level public service salaries creates envy in the rest of the country. It’s not an economic argument, but I think you would find that the non-Canberra public would be more accepting of the public service if the executive levels weren’t as concentrated in the Canberra region, as there would be less of a reason to believe (rightly or wrongly) that tax dollars disappear in to a government town and are never seen again.

By the way, I’m sorry that you thought my original comment was a tome. I have a habit of being ambiguous and easily misinterpreted when I’m brief, so I like to explain my thoughts in details. Alas, at times, it doesn’t clarify much at all.

Ghettosmurf87 said :

Samuel Gordon-Stewart said :

I would hope that years of experience within a single department would increase the quality of work and the quality of training for new staff in that department.

And this my friend is why you don’t quite understand it. Having worked in an agency which has a large number of staff having worked within it’s structures for 20+ years, it is the exact opposite.

The staff are the least open to change, modernisation and new ideas. They become stuck in their own little world, without exposure to how other workplaces may have operated better. Rather than improving their own departments, the lack of new ideas means that the agency stagnates and remains 10-15yrs behind the kinds of processes which enhance the agency’s capability to perform it’s tasks in today’s society.

The movement of staff between agencies means that better practices are able to be implemented as new/fresh faces move into an agency and show the way.

Public service should be resistant to change. Change should be a by-product of the implementation of government policy, not a by-product of inter-departmental staff movements.

Adapting to the needs of the public, depending on the department, is important, but “the needs of the public” should be defined by the parliament rather than direct feedback. For example, Centrelink payments should be set by parliament, not by people walking in to Centrelink and requesting extra money. On the other hand, some departments can identify necessary changes within the scope of existing policy, such as police identifying that different handcuffs are more effective and allow them to meet government expectations more easily, or any department identifying that a certain brand of toner is able to print more pages on one fill.

The public service, while professional, should not undertake wholesale changes autonomously on the whim of new staff, but rather under direction from parliament and from careful consideration of experienced senior staff, and if senior staff are unwilling to implement changes as required by elected politicians, then they should either not be senior staff, or not be in the public service at all. The role of the public service is to implement and oversee the day-to-day operation of government policy, and I have to question the wisdom of continuing to employ any senior (or junior, but senior in particular) public servant who does not wholeheartedly embrace that.

mezza76 said :

On the other issues – it’s not about public servants in Canberra understaning ‘Canberra’ issues. It’s about taking a ‘national’ view. I don’t need to be in a frick’n flood to know it’s bad. But I need to know the issues around it – how to get quick income support, repairing critical infrastructure, immediate housing and sanitation needs, ensuring good governance and law and order. We’re people with a diverse background, skills and experiences. We’re not just a bunch of characters from Yes Minister.

In that context, do you think that the best people to plan fuding and investment for developing countries aid money, is the developing countries themselves? Or do you think that developed countries/specially equipped aid organisations are better placed do that?

mezza76 said :

As I said earlier, placing public servants closer to the people they work with has varying benefits depending on the case. To use your example of foreign aid, that depends on the place as some governments are more interested than others in helping their people…but I have no doubt that people on the ground in foreign countries have a better idea of where aid is needed than people who are not located in those areas. Slightly off-topic, but I am of the belief that foreign aid should be managed, on the ground, by our own staff, and if the recipient country does not agree then they should not get any aid. The recipient country should have a large say in what the aid goes towards, but should not be in charge of making it happen. I suspect I’m in the minority on that one.

And while it may not be necessary to live through a flood in order to help with the cleanup, it certainly helps with understanding the problems, and when it comes to certain industries such as farming, I suspect that the people in those industries will be better placed to work with the relevant government departments if they are closer to the action…and this would hopefully lead to better outcomes for both government and the private sector.

mezza76 said :

I think I’ll politely ‘beg to differ’. And for the record, most people in the public service don’t like MOG changes, reshuffles and restructures. All of which are created by bad management, politics or both. I hope one day we’ll make it a referendum to change departments – thereby taking it out of government’s crazy hand to stack every minority issue into the title of a department (see The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities)

Agreeing to disagree sounds like a good idea. I think, at it’s base level, we are disagreeing on fundamental issues of the correct role and scope of government, and even the role, scope and responsibilities of the public service, so I am happy to politely agree to disagree.

gazket 3:42 pm 08 Feb 13

The test for Senator Humphries and Mr Seselja is simple: will they rule out supporting Tony Abbott’s plan for compulsory relocations of Canberra public servants to northern Australia.

total beat up. I doubt people are going to wake up one morning and told to move now to keep your job. I’m sure there would be plenty of notice and going on current public service times for investigations and such there would be years notice

Ghettosmurf87 2:33 pm 08 Feb 13

Samuel Gordon-Stewart said :

I would hope that years of experience within a single department would increase the quality of work and the quality of training for new staff in that department.

And this my friend is why you don’t quite understand it. Having worked in an agency which has a large number of staff having worked within it’s structures for 20+ years, it is the exact opposite.

The staff are the least open to change, modernisation and new ideas. They become stuck in their own little world, without exposure to how other workplaces may have operated better. Rather than improving their own departments, the lack of new ideas means that the agency stagnates and remains 10-15yrs behind the kinds of processes which enhance the agency’s capability to perform it’s tasks in today’s society.

The movement of staff between agencies means that better practices are able to be implemented as new/fresh faces move into an agency and show the way.

Insular agencies set up a silo mentality whereby the status quo is never really questioned because no one from outside the silo is coming in to question it.

It’s why you get someone unfamiliar with a document to proof-read it. As they come in with unbiased, fresh eyes, they can pick up all the lazy habits you might have sunken into, notice the jargon you have used which is note appropriate to a general audience and provide a different way of looking at what you have written.

PantsMan 2:15 pm 08 Feb 13

mezza76 said :

Disclosure: I’m not a member of a political party. I am a public servant and I’ve been working to stop stupid ideas for over a decade.

!?!

dpm 2:09 pm 08 Feb 13

Samuel Gordon-Stewart said :

For the record, I support spreading the public service out across the entire country, not just the north, although I think the north would benefit the most at this point in time from some economic development which would result from a bunch of extra people suddenly living there….

Yeah, we got that impression last time.

As mezza said:”Why is economic activity in Canberra [considered] worse than economic activity in Cairns? Why should the country spend considerable funds moving this economic activity from one location to another? There is no net benefit to the consumer [i.e Australia overall, which the Federal govt would be focused on – not one or two jurisdictions].”

Further, you mentioned in your original tome: “but the public service does not exist to keep Canberra economy ticking over”.
So, how does that fit with: “I think the north would benefit the most at this point in time from some economic development which would result from a bunch of extra people suddenly living there”.
i.e What if we replace ‘Canberra’ in your first quote with ‘Cairns’? Basically, you’re confusing me! Then again, i’m a bit simple!

mezza76 1:55 pm 08 Feb 13

Samuel Gordon-Stewart said :

For the record, I support spreading the public service out across the entire country, not just the north, although I think the north would benefit the most at this point in time from some economic development which would result from a bunch of extra people suddenly living there.

But it doesn’t. They aren’t ‘extra’ people…they are people moving from one economic area to another. So unless they are all unemployed to begin with – you’re not ‘creating’ anything. You are simply removing economic activity from one area to another.

On the other issues – it’s not about public servants in Canberra understaning ‘Canberra’ issues. It’s about taking a ‘national’ view. I don’t need to be in a frick’n flood to know it’s bad. But I need to know the issues around it – how to get quick income support, repairing critical infrastructure, immediate housing and sanitation needs, ensuring good governance and law and order. We’re people with a diverse background, skills and experiences. We’re not just a bunch of characters from Yes Minister.

In that context, do you think that the best people to plan fuding and investment for developing countries aid money, is the developing countries themselves? Or do you think that developed countries/specially equipped aid organisations are better placed do that?

I think I’ll politely ‘beg to differ’. And for the record, most people in the public service don’t like MOG changes, reshuffles and restructures. All of which are created by bad management, politics or both. I hope one day we’ll make it a referendum to change departments – thereby taking it out of government’s crazy hand to stack every minority issue into the title of a department (see The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities)

Samuel Gordon-Stewart 1:12 pm 08 Feb 13

For the record, I support spreading the public service out across the entire country, not just the north, although I think the north would benefit the most at this point in time from some economic development which would result from a bunch of extra people suddenly living there.

In regards to having departments closer to their clients, obviously it’s not applicable or appropriate for all departments, but there are some where it makes sense. With other departments, where there may not be a best strategic place for them to be located, spreading them out around the country is more of an economic plan than a “this department works best here” plan. I also take the point that being closer to a community or group does not necessarily mean that you have a better understanding of it, but people tend to best understand that which they live with, and I doubt I will ever be convinced that it is healthy for the vast majority of senior public servants to live in Canberra with an understanding of Canberra issues. Having some here in Canberra and some in areas which are more likely to experience the occasional flood, and some in areas where livestock regularly meander across highways etc, in my view at least, creates a level of understanding which filters through to the implementation of policy.

As for public servants moving between departments, while it is good to have experienced staff use their experience in new ways, I also think there is such a thing as making it too easy to move between departments. Experience within a department is a valuable thing, and I would hope that any public servant would be able to take pride in their work and their department, and if given the opportunity would be willing to use that experience to become more senior within that department. I would hope that years of experience within a single department would increase the quality of work and the quality of training for new staff in that department. Being able to use that experience in another department is fine, but it should be based more on departmental need and less on moving around for the sake of moving around. Distributing departments would hopefully concentrate inter-departmental staff movements to an extent where moves have more to do with need and less to do with either moving because it’s possible or moving because a government thought it would be fun to rearrange the department acronyms again…not that governments shouldn’t rearrange the public service from time-to-time, but perhaps they would think more carefully before doing so if it was going to cost a heap to relocate a whole heap of staff.

Bosworth 1:08 pm 08 Feb 13

The same strategy was tried in the 1970’s in the Albury-Wodonga region.

That plan was actually implemented, but fizzled out long ago.

Erg0 12:42 pm 08 Feb 13

SGS’s post puts me in mind of Ronald Reagan’s nine most terrifying words in the English language:

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

mezza76 12:03 pm 08 Feb 13

Samuel Gordon-Stewart said :

Once upon a time it made sense to have a bureaucracy which was centralised to the place where parliament was located. These days, in the age of electronic communications, there really is no need to have so much of the public service located in one place.

Yes, moving large parts of the public service out of Canberra may have detrimental short-term effects on Canberra’s economy, but the public service does not exist to keep Canberra economy ticking over, rather it exists to serve the interest of all Australians and, as such, should be willing to serve Australia’s interests in whatever location is of most benefit. That said, given that the federal government is largely responsible for Canberra’s economy having such reliance on the public service, the federal government should give due consideration to Canberra when planning changes which would impact on Canberra’s economy. Canberra’s interests should not be the only consideration, but they should at least be considered.

I do firmly believe that the nation’s interests are best served by a distributed public service. We have large populations in coastal areas which are, in some cases, overpopulated and under-served by infrastructure, while we also have massive sections of the country which are either underpopulated or uninhabited, but could very easily cater to the needs of part of our population, and should probably be built-up now if we are to expand in to them as the population grows so as to avoid further stretching the resources of existing overpopulated areas.

It would be silly to expect the private sector to build these areas up on their own. Economic incentives will help to attract the private sector, but the whole process will be much faster and much smoother if some public servants move in to these areas as well, and increase the market demand in the areas in the process. I would see no problem with granting public servants in these areas the same economic incentives (tax cuts etc) as private sector people/businesses who set up in these areas.

Some parts of the public service probably should keep a presence in Canberra, but hypothetically speaking (and without figuring out which acronym the various departments use as names this week) it does seem silly to base Immigration and Customs so far from a coastline; Indigenous Affairs so far away from the majority of their clients; Air Services Australia and CASA so far away from major airports (with apologies to Stephen Byron whose airport serves a purpose but is not as big as our major coastal airports) etc.

Apart from the idea of basing some departments in locations which are closer to the people with which they work the most, it seems logical to me to not have a centralised public service simply for cultural reasons. It happens in every industry that if the majority of your time is spent dealing with people in your industry, your mindset becomes based around your industry. A centralised public service lends itself to this in that, by having so many public servants and departments in one place, it is easy to think more about government than about the people whom the government is supposed to serve. Having a less centralised public service would, in my view, make it easier for the public service to work in a more efficient manner for the benefit of the general population.

It also strikes me as ironic that by decentralising the public service, the NBN would be an even less necessary proposition than it already is, as the extra population in regional areas combined with departmental data needs would result in a demand for high-speed internet services in regional areas which would be very attractive to the private sector.

Admittedly the whole idea would inconvenience some public servants, and the costs of moving people may be difficult in the short-term given the government’s current financial state, but the long-term benefits would far outweigh the short-term costs, and surely the long-term benefit of the nation is what our public servants should embrace.

Disclosure: I’m a Liberal Party member, but I have no hand in the discussion paper which was reported on by the media, nor am I talking as anything other than a private citizen with an opinion.

While not wanting to ‘play the man rather than the ball’ – I’m not sure you know fully know how the APS and government works in practice.

Once upon a time, government was centralized in Canberra for a reason. It wasn’t solely because the young nation at the time thought it was logistically better. It was also because we’re a Federation, and having Canberra as a neutral point would help ensure that the public service wouldn’t give undue development and favour to one state over another. Let me put this silly proposal in context:

Why should Northern Australia gain more development over Tasmania? Or South Australia? Or southern Western Australia? Or south east Queensland?

Why should Tasmanian taxes subsidise the development of Northern Australia?

But “the resources” you say – well how about the fact that most of this nation’s wealth is produced in the south east coast. Yep – the vast bulk of income, company and GST is derived from big bad Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

This is a general principle as to why the Australian Constitution was drafted to ensure that states are treated equally.

The public service – if it is to serve the interest of all Australians – should be free from the parochial bias that can exist in regional environments. I’ve worked in both State and Federal public services and the decision making culture is starkly different. States would see another state’s grandmother if it meant more for themselves. While they do develop like national interests in the spirit of reform – these are generally reforms bought by the Commonwealth.

I struggle with this point about it being a ‘Canberra’ issue. Why is economic activity in Canberra worse than economic activity in Cairns? Why should the country spend considerable funds moving this economic activity from one location to another? There is no net benefit to the consumer. New infrastructure would need to be built – but at what cost to the existing infrastructure that we are already paying for?

I also struggle with the notion that departments should be close to their clients, etc. It misunderstands in many ways what services the APS provides. In some areas of provision of customer services – they already are (Medicare, Centrelink, ATSI services are frequently outsourced or delivered through States). Others don’t have the population as customers – policy departments are better suited to being near each other so to ensure a lack of silos and ensure good consultation. By extracting your principle – the AFP should be located in the biggest crime spots to understand organized crime, the department of ageing should be on the Gold Coast and Treasury should be in Martin Place in Sydney. It’s like saying the best people to do corrective services policy are criminals, the best health policy experts are doctors – it isn’t. Often in my experience they make the worst. Placing Departments closer to their clients and expertise isn’t going to provide better advice or services.

Disclosure: I’m not a member of a political party. I am a public servant and I’ve been working to stop stupid ideas for over a decade.

Ghettosmurf87 11:29 am 08 Feb 13

While notable that 60% of the APS is already located outside of the ACT, it would be worth working out how much of the APS is actually outside of the countries capital cities. I have no figures to go on, but would suspect it is far lower.

Moving departments other than service delivery areas outside of the capital cities would fly against the whole idea of “A single APS”, because lets face it, except for a few “experts” in certain areas, large parts of APS skills/capabilities are easily transferable and the transfer of staff bewteen agencies is something that has been encouraged to avoid staleness and people getting too cushy in their own little areas.

If we start moving non-service areas to remote/rural localities i think you are likely to find that the transfer rates in these areas are going to plummet. The localities will become areas that only certain people go. You’ll get your initial uptake and then only those with a vested interest in the department in question will ever head out there. Or those looking to make a buck. You will see more of a return to people spending their entire careers in a single area/department, rather than shifting between them, gathering knowledge and experience from different areas and hopefully, benefitting the APS as a whole.

Now of course, we still have plenty of cases of this anyway and the APS is definitely no model of efficiency, but I hardly think a move that will encourage a return to the old ways is a positive.

dtc 10:42 am 08 Feb 13

Well, at least 60% of the APS is based outside Canberra anyway

When people talk about ‘distributing’ the APS it really means the APS management/policy areas. I still struggle to understand, for example, how an APS EL2 living in regional areas will have a greater understanding of issues – they will still be hanging out with their EL2 mates, working in an APS office etc etc. I dont pretend to understand the concerns of single mothers just because I live near the Northbourne Ave flats.

If the issue is to spend more money / increase employment in regional areas, then sure.

watto23 10:30 am 08 Feb 13

There is merit in the idea of making it attractive to move to certain locations, but surely part of such a plan would involve the NBN as an enabler for this to happen. Yet the coalition opposes this and has decided a second rate plan which means spending less money now and hiding the fact it will cost more in the long term….

Samuel Gordon-Stewart 10:23 am 08 Feb 13

johnboy said :

Still a hell of a lot easier (and vastly more effective) to pop around to another section’s desk to have a quick informal chat than to rely on email SGS

Phones with webcams are a decent substitute for in-person chats, but if department moves were to be handled in a logical manner where people who need to work with each other are moved together, the majority of the in-person chats could still happen.

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