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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
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ungruntled 1:16 pm 16 Jun 15

We have had successive Federal Governments whose attitude to the ACT has been quite negative. There has been no sense of pride in the National Capital.
I suspect it began to be manifest with the unceremonious shove into self government, which was not only rejected soundly by ACT residents, but was patently inappropriate for a community set up specifically for the purpose of being the centre of government, without other industry or economic base.
It was an economic decision, to free the Federal Government of its responsibilities here. It had the added bonus of leaving it with little responsibility to even pay its own way – it remained free from paying land rates, payroll tax, GST and all other State Duties & Taxes.
The Federal Government will tell you that the Grants Commission takes care of that. It does not. It payes at the same rate as for other States & Territories. States loose revenue on federal government activities of around 5%. The ACT, however, has about 50% of its economic activity not taxed. You don’t need to be a mathematician to see that doesn’t work.
Because “Canberra” is the word used in the media when they mean “Federal Government”, our city wears all the bad press, both from poor behaviour by individual politicians & poor or unpopular decision making at the political level. This makes it easier for Governments to make massive cuts to Federal Public Service without causing such widespread criticism (as though these people are somehow not normal wage-earning, tax-paying, family-raising members of the Australian population).
That there is no thought given to the wider effects of decisions to move Departments, willy nilly and as the current mood takes them, is surely no surprise at this point. It seems that a favourite sport of the current Federal Government is “Blame the Victim”, so they can cut resources to the ACT and try to convince the rest of Australia to cheer.
The real question, is how can we deal with this situation? What would happen if the agreement between the States & Federal Government to not tax each other, were to be recinded? Then, perhaps the Commonwealth Grants Commission could redistribute tax revenue on a far more equitable basis?
I don’t know the answers, but I am pretty sure the questions need to be asked, and some bigger brains than mine applied to the task.

dungfungus 8:46 am 05 Jun 15

JC said :

dungfungus said :

Tymefor said :

dungfungus said :

Tymefor said :

rubaiyat said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

Hmm you should try pitching this idea to some of the worlds most successfully run offices. I’m sure the people at Google would love to hear about how much better removing culture and providing nothing to do but work to do, is for their efficiency.

When you don’t pay tax you can afford a few fringe benefits.

I assume you are trying to reference how many online businesses do not currently collect the GST for the products and services they provide. The emphasis there should be on collect, as it is the purchaser that actually pays the GST not the business collecting it.

No, I was referring to income tax.Australia is leading the word in cracking down on profit shifting by the large multinationals.
The problem with GST not being charged by some on-line businesses (mainly offshore ones) is that they have to first be registered in Australia to charge/collect it. This is why the Australian government is obliged to levy and collect GST on ALL imports. The current policy not to levy anything above $500 is a cop-out by governments.

It is $1000 actually and as has been pointed out before the reason they don’t collect it is because the cost to do so would far out weigh the money recovered. And of course would mean hiring public servants which we know the current Liebral government sees as bad.

You are correct – it is still $1,000. I tried to find out if it had been reduced to $500 as was suggested by the current government but the issue has been pushed off the headlines by more important nation building events like marriage equality and other trivia.
I don’t agree with you that it will “cost too much” to collect it. It is simply a matter of modifying scanning and other existing procedures. Customers will be able to pre-pay the GST online (like importers) so that delivery is not impeded. It may surprise you to learn that many years ago all incoming parcels of consumer goods were subject to import duty and tariffs. People will soon get hang of it.
Good article here from a left leaning think tank: https://theconversation.com/lowering-the-gst-import-threshold-will-require-careful-political-management-22080
To do nothing is ensuring Australia’s financial problems continue to worsen.

JC 7:27 am 05 Jun 15

dungfungus said :

Tymefor said :

dungfungus said :

Tymefor said :

rubaiyat said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

Hmm you should try pitching this idea to some of the worlds most successfully run offices. I’m sure the people at Google would love to hear about how much better removing culture and providing nothing to do but work to do, is for their efficiency.

When you don’t pay tax you can afford a few fringe benefits.

I assume you are trying to reference how many online businesses do not currently collect the GST for the products and services they provide. The emphasis there should be on collect, as it is the purchaser that actually pays the GST not the business collecting it.

No, I was referring to income tax.Australia is leading the word in cracking down on profit shifting by the large multinationals.
The problem with GST not being charged by some on-line businesses (mainly offshore ones) is that they have to first be registered in Australia to charge/collect it. This is why the Australian government is obliged to levy and collect GST on ALL imports. The current policy not to levy anything above $500 is a cop-out by governments.

It is $1000 actually and as has been pointed out before the reason they don’t collect it is because the cost to do so would far out weigh the money recovered. And of course would mean hiring public servants which we know the current Liebral government sees as bad.

carriew 9:58 pm 04 Jun 15

I reckon Kim Fischer has written a well thought out and sensible article – I thoroughly agree with the points made.

Traffic out towards the airport precinct is horrific, I live in Watson and we are experiencing traffic bottle necks which can only get worse as far as I can see. I dread the possibility that we’ll lose the trees along Antill St between Phillip Ave and the area towards Prime TV to widen the road to cope with the increased traffic, hopefully this won’t happen.

Moving workers out of the Belconnen region is nutty. Weren’t all those offices upgraded in recent years? And yes it makes a mockery out of the apartments that have been constructed in the area, I wonder what the occupancy rate of the new apartments is?

Random planning is rife. Walter Burley Griffin must be turning in his grave!!

dungfungus 9:25 pm 04 Jun 15

dungfungus said :

Tymefor said :

dungfungus said :

Tymefor said :

rubaiyat said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

Hmm you should try pitching this idea to some of the worlds most successfully run offices. I’m sure the people at Google would love to hear about how much better removing culture and providing nothing to do but work to do, is for their efficiency.

When you don’t pay tax you can afford a few fringe benefits.

I assume you are trying to reference how many online businesses do not currently collect the GST for the products and services they provide. The emphasis there should be on collect, as it is the purchaser that actually pays the GST not the business collecting it.

No, I was referring to income tax.Australia is leading the word in cracking down on profit shifting by the large multinationals.
The problem with GST not being charged by some on-line businesses (mainly offshore ones) is that they have to first be registered in Australia to charge/collect it. This is why the Australian government is obliged to levy and collect GST on ALL imports. The current policy not to levy anything above $500 is a cop-out by governments.

Trade deficit for April is nearly $4 billion, a record.
My case rests, as they say.

Kalliste 6:06 pm 04 Jun 15

If it were decided that DIBP were to move out to the airport I would probably end up having to resign or get a licence, buy a car, pay for insurance, rego etc or get fit (probably more likely to be buying a car!) and ride a push bike. With the state of public transport in Canberra it would mean and hr+ on a bus when the drive is less than 20mins..

Even moving out to Belconnen will be less convenient for me, would be more than happy staying in the city. But if the choice is Belconnen or the airport, I’d definitely choose Belconnen.

As for having stuff to do. During my lunch break I might walk down to the lake, go to the library, do some shopping, buy lunch etc and it sounds like that would not be a possibility out there, unless you want to take a stroll up to Costco.

No thanks/

dungfungus 1:50 pm 03 Jun 15

Tymefor said :

dungfungus said :

Tymefor said :

rubaiyat said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

Hmm you should try pitching this idea to some of the worlds most successfully run offices. I’m sure the people at Google would love to hear about how much better removing culture and providing nothing to do but work to do, is for their efficiency.

When you don’t pay tax you can afford a few fringe benefits.

I assume you are trying to reference how many online businesses do not currently collect the GST for the products and services they provide. The emphasis there should be on collect, as it is the purchaser that actually pays the GST not the business collecting it.

No, I was referring to income tax.Australia is leading the word in cracking down on profit shifting by the large multinationals.
The problem with GST not being charged by some on-line businesses (mainly offshore ones) is that they have to first be registered in Australia to charge/collect it. This is why the Australian government is obliged to levy and collect GST on ALL imports. The current policy not to levy anything above $500 is a cop-out by governments.

Tymefor 10:47 am 03 Jun 15

dungfungus said :

Tymefor said :

rubaiyat said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

Hmm you should try pitching this idea to some of the worlds most successfully run offices. I’m sure the people at Google would love to hear about how much better removing culture and providing nothing to do but work to do, is for their efficiency.

When you don’t pay tax you can afford a few fringe benefits.

I assume you are trying to reference how many online businesses do not currently collect the GST for the products and services they provide. The emphasis there should be on collect, as it is the purchaser that actually pays the GST not the business collecting it.

rubaiyat 10:31 am 03 Jun 15

Tymefor said :

rubaiyat said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

Hmm you should try pitching this idea to some of the worlds most successfully run offices. I’m sure the people at Google would love to hear about how much better removing culture and providing nothing to do but work to do, is for their efficiency.

Google has a huge fat cash cow to support it, and even there is now hitting walls with income growth.

btw I was being a tad sarcastic.

dungfungus 10:05 am 03 Jun 15

Tymefor said :

rubaiyat said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

Hmm you should try pitching this idea to some of the worlds most successfully run offices. I’m sure the people at Google would love to hear about how much better removing culture and providing nothing to do but work to do, is for their efficiency.

When you don’t pay tax you can afford a few fringe benefits.

Funky1 9:45 am 03 Jun 15

dungfungus said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

It’s about business, not recreation and to that end it has been an outstanding success in fact a model for airports all over the globe. No vibrancy? Good!

Please give examples. If all over the globe, then one in each continent should surfice.

JC 9:26 am 03 Jun 15

dungfungus said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

It’s about business, not recreation and to that end it has been an outstanding success in fact a model for airports all over the globe. No vibrancy? Good!

A business that has robbed all ACT residents of income derived by developing commercial centres on government land and led to government expenses to support it all. You call that success but then complain when the ACT government tries to do something like IKEA which will make use of that otherwise unnecessary government expense. Hmm

Tymefor 9:12 am 03 Jun 15

rubaiyat said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

Hmm you should try pitching this idea to some of the worlds most successfully run offices. I’m sure the people at Google would love to hear about how much better removing culture and providing nothing to do but work to do, is for their efficiency.

dungfungus 8:52 am 03 Jun 15

rubaiyat said :

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

It’s worked well at Campbell Park for many years.

rubaiyat 12:20 am 03 Jun 15

FHW said :

The airport business park is a cultural desert.

No library, no small shops, no bike paths, no parks, no supermarkets, no post offices, poor public transport, expensive parking, no vibrancy. Why would any employer think it benefits anyone by moving out there? Immigration is better off alone in a city than co-located in a desert.

That is the beauty of the scheme, with nothing to do, or distract the employees, all they have to fall back on is to do their work.

Could prove to be a major cultural shock for most departments.

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