Page 1580 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 10 May 2017

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MR BARR (Kurrajong—Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development and Minister for Tourism and Major Events) (3.53): I thank Ms Cheyne for bringing this matter forward. I acknowledge the contribution of the Leader of the Opposition. It was interesting advice at the conclusion of his speech, although I think one could easily mount an argument that decentralisation in a city-state is a lot different from what would apply across a continent like Australia. And one could equally argue that the public service is already decentralised, as the Leader of the Opposition observed, with more that 60 per cent of it located outside Canberra anyway.

Those points aside, it is clear that our city is the heart of the Australian public service, and it has been that way since construction commenced on the first permanent administration building, now known as the John Gorton building, in 1927. In the 90 years since that day, Canberra has steadily grown as a range of public service departments were consolidated here. I think it is fair to say that our city is the single most successful example of regional decentralisation in the country’s history. We are now the hub of policymaking, research and government innovation and a place people come to when they want to be part of building a better Australia.

Bringing together agencies that were previously scattered across Sydney, Melbourne and other capitals has brought real benefits. Close proximity means departments can share ideas more easily and deliver joint projects more effectively. They can recruit from a deep pool of skilled public service professionals who can easily move between departments to build their experience and broaden their knowledge of the range of big policy challenges that face our nation. And there are many practical advantages in having policy experts delivering the commonwealth government’s agenda located near the executive and the commonwealth parliament.

Having the Australian public service headquartered in Canberra also brings real benefits to our community. There are around 58,000 Canberrans currently employed by public service agencies, a little over a quarter of all the jobs in this city. Commonwealth government spending in the territory economy totals some $36 billion annually. This, of course, is a huge source of income for the near 26,000 businesses that operate in the territory. When we have vague and detail-less plans announced by the federal Nationals, the Deputy Prime Minister and a federal minister recently at the Press Club suggesting that a decentralisation agenda, however defined, is about to take place, it is a serious worry for Canberra, but it is also a serious worry for the Australian public service.

Admittedly, we do not yet know how many agencies may move or where they will go. As is so often the case with thought bubbles from the federal government, this grand decentralisation plan may well end up going nowhere. The fact that in the budget they have tried to add some further conditions and rules around the movement of agencies just weeks after the original announcement tends to indicate a bit of policy on the run occurring here.

As Ms Cheyne has said, there is absolutely no justification for ripping public service agencies out of Canberra, or the tens of thousands of local jobs that come with those

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