Page 1579 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 10 May 2017

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Whilst personally I am disappointed by the recent statement by the Minister for Regional Development that all federal departments would be required to justify their continued presence in Canberra, I was pleased to see that Senator Zed Seselja stood up for the ACT and demanded that local impact assessments be considered as part of the process. The Canberra Liberals will continue to push for federal public service positions to be based here in Canberra.

It is important to note that governments of both colours have been guilty when it comes to putting public service agencies in regional locations, perhaps at the expense of Canberra. When there was talk about the creation of the NDIA, I think most people would have just assumed that it would be in Canberra. Prime Minister Gillard’s decision to put it in Geelong was surely to help shore up the electorates of Corio and Corangamite. I do not think anyone could deny that. There were also decisions to locate Infrastructure Australia and other agencies outside Canberra.

Further to this, we know that local governments—and, I believe, some federal Labor MPs—have been lobbying the government as part of this process to have public service agencies relocated to their towns, their cities or their regions, including Ballarat, Bendigo, Corio, Cunningham, Lingiari, Paterson and other areas. The submission from the Maitland City Council, which adjoins the Hunter electorate of Joel Fitzgibbon, said that decentralisation would help address skills shortages in regional Australia and ease cost of living pressure in capital cities. We have to be mindful of the fact that whilst we in this chamber are all of one mind, there is a variety of views on both sides of the chamber up on the hill.

As I just mentioned, it is important to remember that 37.2 per cent of the federal bureaucracy currently are in Canberra. That reflects about 57,500 public servants, so we have more than 60,000 federal public servants already based outside the Australian Capital Territory.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate the opposition’s support for this issue and for this motion. But I would also like to touch on the fact that the principle of decentralisation is something that this ACT government supports, albeit it in the ACT. We hear Mr Barr talk about how it is good to decentralise the ACT government service to Tuggeranong, Gungahlin, Woden or Belconnen. Indeed, the mover of this motion spoke about the importance of decentralisation here in the ACT with regard to having a public service agency in Belconnen. We agree with that principle here in the ACT, but perhaps we are walking a tightrope when we say that on the one hand we like decentralisation in our jurisdiction but on the other hand we cannot have decentralisation in other jurisdictions

I very much support the sentiment and the actual motion which is on the table today, but in terms of the rhetoric we have to be careful that we do not tie ourselves in knots with regard to the word “decentralisation” when we are talking about the public service here in the Australian Capital Territory.

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