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Time for the Commonwealth to stop trashing Canberra’s town centres

By Kim Fischer - 1 June 2015 35

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As recent articles have reported, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is considering moving its 4000 employees out of Belconnen. Tender documents have revealed the department is looking to lease 80,000 square metres of building space in one precinct.

More recently, the Department of Finance assumed responsibility for this decision as part of a broader accommodation review announced by the Federal Government. Finance has promised to take local interests into account, a line hailed as indicating success in the campaign against the move in the media and by some community groups.

This would be premature.

For a start, neither Finance or Immigration can explain how the concept of a ‘local interest’ can be incorporated into a tender process that assumes a level playing field for respondents. And even if Immigration stays in Belconnen (as it rightly should), it’s only a matter of time before another rogue Departmental Secretary thinks it’s a good idea to try something like this again. Just back in 2013 there were similar rumours of Centrelink employees being moved out of Tuggeranong.

The impact caused by Departments leaving town centres can be devastating. Think about what would happen if Immigration left Belconnen:

  • There would be an estimated $41 million annual loss to businesses in the Belconnen town centre, with further job losses and shop closures inevitable. The new apartment buildings being constructed in the area would become less appealing for buyers.
  • The two most likely locations for a relocated Immigration department are Civic and the airport. Either way, the thousands of employees living northside will have to squeeze through the chokepoints at Civic and/or Russell in morning and afternoon peak hour traffic. More cars on the road means more delays and more stress.
  • Assuming that most employees live near Belconnen, any shift could increase typical commute times by up to an hour per day. Quite aside from the additional transport costs, this move completely ignores any commitments that its employees might have outside work, like school pickups for children. The public service should be a model employer, and to consider acting in this way sends a message that the needs of its employees don’t matter.

The Federal Government is by far the largest employer in the ACT. Precisely because of these large potential impacts, the local governments of most cities with a single major employer remain in constant conversation about employment and investment decisions. Yet the ACT Government remains strangely disengaged about this whole affair, and appears to be just hoping that things work out.

I have been campaigning over the last few months for an improved and permanently agreed process for handling Commonwealth department relocations.  Any such process should routinely include conversations with affected staff, the Chief Minister, and the local community.

If the Department of Immigration needs all its workers in the one location, moving 4000 Immigration workers to another location after 40 years in Belconnen isn’t the way to go. It would be far better to move the 1500 Customs workers to Belconnen. As this would have a smaller but noticeable effect on the economy in Civic, a cautious approach is still necessary. This is a good opportunity for the Department of Finance and the ACT Government to trial a more consultative approach.

(Photo: At Belconnen bus interchange gathering signatures to keep Immigration in Belconnen)

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35 Responses to
Time for the Commonwealth to stop trashing Canberra’s town centres
dungfungus 1:16 pm 02 Jun 15

Tymefor said :

Grrrr said :

4000 employees are spending $41m a year at “local businesses”? $10k per year per employee on what – lunches, maybe some clothes?

And what’s the definition of local business? Do national chains with a local shop count? No-one gives a rats if woolies or coles lose a few percent of their business. Are you including paid parking in that or something?

That’s number is either wildly optimistic or Immigration employees are wildly profligate. I’d suggest the former.

How about all the personal services…. hair, beauty, optometry, dentistry, dry cleaning, massage, fitness and innumerable medical services. There’s at least 41 million in those alone.

While we would be able to retain many of those clients, even were the department to move. It would absolutely stall or perhaps recede growth in those areas. Without growth, there will be no improvement in the Quality and Availability of those services, in Belconnen, for many years.

This is important because Belconnen town centre has residents! Residents both within and surrounding it. And, the number of them is growing as well.

The Airport has none

Convenient access to a large variety and high quality range of personal services benefits the community as a whole, not just the workers themselves. Whatever the actual expenditure for those workers is. It is definitely in the tens of millions of dollars. Pulling and moving that sort of money from the services sector and moving it to the airport. Will mean a lot of businesses, innovation and development will just follow it out there!

Where nobody else but the workers and Mr Snow will benefit from it.

Last time I was at the back of the airport where the old airmen’s residences were, some were occupied so there are residents there now. The new airport hotel will be completed soon. The services will follow.
I would envisage that the airport people will eventually build high quality, medium density apartments on the area where the houses are. They will be solar oriented and have triple glazing.
I would be interested in moving there even though most apartments I have seen in Canberra are inadequate.

Tymefor 10:51 am 02 Jun 15

Grrrr said :

4000 employees are spending $41m a year at “local businesses”? $10k per year per employee on what – lunches, maybe some clothes?

And what’s the definition of local business? Do national chains with a local shop count? No-one gives a rats if woolies or coles lose a few percent of their business. Are you including paid parking in that or something?

That’s number is either wildly optimistic or Immigration employees are wildly profligate. I’d suggest the former.

How about all the personal services…. hair, beauty, optometry, dentistry, dry cleaning, massage, fitness and innumerable medical services. There’s at least 41 million in those alone.

While we would be able to retain many of those clients, even were the department to move. It would absolutely stall or perhaps recede growth in those areas. Without growth, there will be no improvement in the Quality and Availability of those services, in Belconnen, for many years.

This is important because Belconnen town centre has residents! Residents both within and surrounding it. And, the number of them is growing as well.

The Airport has none

Convenient access to a large variety and high quality range of personal services benefits the community as a whole, not just the workers themselves. Whatever the actual expenditure for those workers is. It is definitely in the tens of millions of dollars. Pulling and moving that sort of money from the services sector and moving it to the airport. Will mean a lot of businesses, innovation and development will just follow it out there!

Where nobody else but the workers and Mr Snow will benefit from it.

dungfungus 9:25 am 02 Jun 15

JC said :

bryansworld said :

dungfungus said :

bryansworld said :

dungfungus said :

It makes more sense to consolidate both agencies at Canberra Airport business park.
If Canberra is to become an international airport the functions of both agencies will be integral in making it happen. The spin-offs from international flights will create a huge new industry for Canberra and region.
As for the growing number of empty office blocks (not just Belconnen and Civic), conversion to residential seems the only viable option.

I reckon less than 1% of the staff in DIBP would be involved in functions directly relevant to a Canberra International Airport. All the others would just be out there.

Well, there you go. I have to admit that I know little about the APS and can you blame me?
Every time I ask a PS what they actually do I get a blank look.
As you say “all the others would just be out there”.

OK, my fault for being glib. The other 99% would be performing functions in the Department not directly related to the provision of services to Canberra Airport. The bulk of these would involve functions within the national office of the Department, including policy, the coordination of operational functions, support to Ministers and Parliament, inter-agency cooperation and coordination, and internal administration.

Your very wrong. The amount of people providing service to the airport would be about 20 max, out of a total staffing number of 5500 in Canberra, so thats about 0.00363636% providing direct support and 99.636363 doing other things. The rest of your post agree.

I am truly humbled by the expert opinion forthcoming after my silly suggestion.
It is time for me to buy an up-dated slide rule.

rubaiyat 8:16 am 02 Jun 15

Grrrr said :

4000 employees are spending $41m a year at “local businesses”? $10k per year per employee on what – lunches, maybe some clothes?

And what’s the definition of local business? Do national chains with a local shop count? No-one gives a rats if woolies or coles lose a few percent of their business. Are you including paid parking in that or something?

That’s number is either wildly optimistic or Immigration employees are wildly profligate. I’d suggest the former.

That 10k is easily achievable, may even be an underestimate. Because it is not just the employees who do their groceries, petrol, pay rent, utilities etc, but also the department itself which has to pay rent, utilities, maintenance, order supplies, and don’t forget the number of visitors and clients that they draw into the area.

Every dollar has a multiplier effect, which is why we sailed through the GFC so smoothly when we didn’t panic and had good management at top. It is also why the ill-advised and idealogical cuts by the current government are having such a huge impact in reverse. Counter-productively because driving down the economy has cut Government income, the half of the equation the Coalition refuses to consider when “balancing” the books.

Can those pronouncing on costs, and the economic benefits of developments in the RiotACT please elaborate on their mathematical skills and financial backgrounds, because we sure hear some very strange assessments, more often fanciful exaggerations, here.

Grrrr 8:42 pm 01 Jun 15

4000 employees are spending $41m a year at “local businesses”? $10k per year per employee on what – lunches, maybe some clothes?

And what’s the definition of local business? Do national chains with a local shop count? No-one gives a rats if woolies or coles lose a few percent of their business. Are you including paid parking in that or something?

That’s number is either wildly optimistic or Immigration employees are wildly profligate. I’d suggest the former.

HiddenDragon 7:17 pm 01 Jun 15

“The Federal Government is by far the largest employer in the ACT. Precisely because of these large potential impacts, the local governments of most cities with a single major employer remain in constant conversation about employment and investment decisions. Yet the ACT Government remains strangely disengaged about this whole affair, and appears to be just hoping that things work out.”

The ACT Government may not be disengaged on this subject behind the scenes, but in public, it is more often engaged – in lockstep with sections of the local media – in taking pot shots at the Federal Government (just as happened in the Howard years). It is, of course, standard practice for State governments to criticise Federal governments of the opposite political persuasion (and vice versa), but given our massive (and let’s not pretend it’s otherwise) dependence on Federal spending decisions, a less blatantly personal and partisan approach from local Labor/Green politicians towards the Federal Coalition Government might, just, help in cases like this.

Ian 7:14 pm 01 Jun 15

I suspect “taking local interests into account” will probably be interpreted as somewhere in Canberra versus outside of Canberra, rather than in a particular part of Canberra. I wouldn’t really expect the Commonwealth to care one way or the other if an office is in a particular suburb. Its job is to get the best outcome for itself.

steveu 6:23 pm 01 Jun 15

Canberra, IMHO, will never be an international airport-Its struggling to maintain itself as a domestic airport;if we didnt have sitting weeks here with all the federal politicians and their minions I would doubt any airline would want to operate out of here.

The tender didnt specify one building, it could be in a range of buildings as long as they were within 400m of one another, and within 10km radius of the parliamentary triangle.

There are apx 1000 customs workers in canberra, and about 3000 in immigration. Customs is being abolished and replaced with Australian Border Force 1 July. Some immigration public servants will be transferred to ABF, mainly in the regions. Alot of Customs IT and corporate staff have already been moved to the department of immigration. ABF sits under the department of immigration, however the commissioner of the ABF reports to the minister I believe.

To be honest with you, there is probably little need to move anyone (apart from the fact leases are expiring). A city and belconnen set of buildings could be feasible. Centrelink operated across tuggeranong, Woden and Symonston for almost a decade. The staff there coped. ABF in civic, Immigration in Belconnen. This would be alot less disruptive for staff. Unless this is the intention…

JC 5:12 pm 01 Jun 15

bryansworld said :

dungfungus said :

bryansworld said :

dungfungus said :

It makes more sense to consolidate both agencies at Canberra Airport business park.
If Canberra is to become an international airport the functions of both agencies will be integral in making it happen. The spin-offs from international flights will create a huge new industry for Canberra and region.
As for the growing number of empty office blocks (not just Belconnen and Civic), conversion to residential seems the only viable option.

I reckon less than 1% of the staff in DIBP would be involved in functions directly relevant to a Canberra International Airport. All the others would just be out there.

Well, there you go. I have to admit that I know little about the APS and can you blame me?
Every time I ask a PS what they actually do I get a blank look.
As you say “all the others would just be out there”.

OK, my fault for being glib. The other 99% would be performing functions in the Department not directly related to the provision of services to Canberra Airport. The bulk of these would involve functions within the national office of the Department, including policy, the coordination of operational functions, support to Ministers and Parliament, inter-agency cooperation and coordination, and internal administration.

Your very wrong. The amount of people providing service to the airport would be about 20 max, out of a total staffing number of 5500 in Canberra, so thats about 0.00363636% providing direct support and 99.636363 doing other things. The rest of your post agree.

bryansworld 4:40 pm 01 Jun 15

dungfungus said :

bryansworld said :

dungfungus said :

It makes more sense to consolidate both agencies at Canberra Airport business park.
If Canberra is to become an international airport the functions of both agencies will be integral in making it happen. The spin-offs from international flights will create a huge new industry for Canberra and region.
As for the growing number of empty office blocks (not just Belconnen and Civic), conversion to residential seems the only viable option.

I reckon less than 1% of the staff in DIBP would be involved in functions directly relevant to a Canberra International Airport. All the others would just be out there.

Well, there you go. I have to admit that I know little about the APS and can you blame me?
Every time I ask a PS what they actually do I get a blank look.
As you say “all the others would just be out there”.

OK, my fault for being glib. The other 99% would be performing functions in the Department not directly related to the provision of services to Canberra Airport. The bulk of these would involve functions within the national office of the Department, including policy, the coordination of operational functions, support to Ministers and Parliament, inter-agency cooperation and coordination, and internal administration.

dungfungus 3:48 pm 01 Jun 15

bryansworld said :

dungfungus said :

It makes more sense to consolidate both agencies at Canberra Airport business park.
If Canberra is to become an international airport the functions of both agencies will be integral in making it happen. The spin-offs from international flights will create a huge new industry for Canberra and region.
As for the growing number of empty office blocks (not just Belconnen and Civic), conversion to residential seems the only viable option.

I reckon less than 1% of the staff in DIBP would be involved in functions directly relevant to a Canberra International Airport. All the others would just be out there.

Well, there you go. I have to admit that I know little about the APS and can you blame me?
Every time I ask a PS what they actually do I get a blank look.
As you say “all the others would just be out there”.

JC 2:42 pm 01 Jun 15

dungfungus said :

It makes more sense to consolidate both agencies at Canberra Airport business park.
If Canberra is to become an international airport the functions of both agencies will be integral in making it happen. The spin-offs from international flights will create a huge new industry for Canberra and region.

Nonsense. The people we are talking about are policy, admin and the like. Where they are located has no bearing what so ever on Canberra being an international airport or not. It might surprise you but there are already frontline immigration and customs staff working in the airport preceint, who would process international flights, but at present they are doing customs processing for incoming shipments of house lots (for the and of course international flights such as the RAAF VIP A/C etc.

On top of that the whole department does not need to be co-located. Whilst the management structure may well show an integrated department bottom line is not every individual section within the department, will or need to work together to the extent the whole department needs to be collocated and they sure as hell don’t need to be within 10k of Parliament house, nor Canberra airport.

That said I don’t believe that departments ‘owe’ anything to Canberra or individual town centres nor should a move of a department be at the whim of a secretary or indeed machinery of government changes. To clarify the last point, sure with MOG changes some people need to move (and get the chop), but there shouldn’t be any wholsale moves of the whole department for collocation etc.

bryansworld 2:37 pm 01 Jun 15

dungfungus said :

It makes more sense to consolidate both agencies at Canberra Airport business park.
If Canberra is to become an international airport the functions of both agencies will be integral in making it happen. The spin-offs from international flights will create a huge new industry for Canberra and region.
As for the growing number of empty office blocks (not just Belconnen and Civic), conversion to residential seems the only viable option.

I reckon less than 1% of the staff in DIBP would be involved in functions directly relevant to a Canberra International Airport. All the others would just be out there.

dungfungus 1:34 pm 01 Jun 15

It makes more sense to consolidate both agencies at Canberra Airport business park.
If Canberra is to become an international airport the functions of both agencies will be integral in making it happen. The spin-offs from international flights will create a huge new industry for Canberra and region.
As for the growing number of empty office blocks (not just Belconnen and Civic), conversion to residential seems the only viable option.

Felix the Cat 7:41 am 01 Jun 15

It makes good business sense for Dept of Immigration to have most/all of it’s employees in the one building. Probably save a fair bit of (our – taxpayer) money by leasing one building (why don’t they buy?) instead of leasing several and the associated logistic costs of mail, attending meetings etc.

Why do you assume most employees live near Belconnen? I doubt this is the case, any more than someone who works at Woden doesn’t neccessarily live near Woden.

You say that there will be job losses and shop closures if Immigration move from Belconnen but for some reason you don’t seem concerned for this happening if 1500 Customs workers move from wherever they are now (Civic? There was recent thread on here where everyone was saying Civic shops are dead, they would be worse of with 1500 less people to use them).

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