Representatives for the ACT on both sides of politics have condemned a Government decision to encourage the decentralisation of government agencies.
Regional Affairs Minister and deputy Nationals leader Fiona Nash announced today all federal ministers would be required to justify why their agencies should not be decentralised and moved out of Canberra and other large cities.
Senator Nash said by mid-year a criteria would be developed for ministers to gauge whether their department was suited to decentralisation.
“Departments will need to actively justify if they don’t want to move, why all or part of their operations are unsuitable for decentralisation,” she said.
The decision has sparked a furious backlash from Labor, and has also earned condemnation from the conservative side of politics in the ACT, which houses a proportionately large number of public servants.
“This is a blatant example of the Government’s complete and utter disdain for Canberra,” federal Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann said.
“How long has the Government been hatching this secret plan to essentially completely deconstruct Canberra, to deconstruct Sir Robert Menzies’ legacy?
“[Menzies] would be turning in his grave, he made tireless efforts to invest in Canberra, to centralise our nation’s Commonwealth administration here.”
Decision could yet benefit Canberra: Barr
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr was more optimistic, arguing the changes could benefit the Canberra region, bringing jobs to the Queanbeyan and southern NSW regions.
ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe says the move will hurt Canberra. (ABC News: Andrew Kennedy)
“Around 62 per cent of all Australian Government employment is located outside of the ACT,” he said.
“So there is plenty of scope for the decentralisation agenda to occur in the big states without undermining the core purpose of the national capital or the effectiveness of public administration.”
But ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said he was “very concerned by the announcement”.
“Canberra was designed and created to be the capital of Australia, and part of that capital means housing the public service,” he said.
“There really do need to be exceptional circumstances for any public service agency to be located outside of the ACT.”
Move comes after APVMA controversy
Senator Nash maintained the move would be implemented “sensibly” to spread the benefits of public sector work more broadly.
“Rural, regional and remote Australians deserve the careers, flow-on benefits and jobs offered by departments and their agencies just as much as capital city Australians do,” she said.
Senator Nash’s announcement comes after Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce’s controversial decision to move the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to his electorate of Armidale.
Mr Joyce has attracted accusations of pork-barrelling over the move.
The ACT’s only federal Liberal representative, Zed Seselja, was unavailable to comment on the decision.