Decentralisation hopes

Minister for Regional Development Fiona Nash.

Last week, the Federal Government announced a radical new decentralisation policy: all government agencies would have to justify why they should not be moved to a regional area, rather than the other way around.

Government departments have until August to prepare arguments as to why it is necessary for their work for them to stay in Canberra, Sydney, or Melbourne.

If their arguments aren’t good enough they will be shifted to the bush, Minister for Regional Development Fiona Nash announced.

“All portfolio ministers will be required to report back to Cabinet by August on which of their departments, functions or entities are suitable,” Senator Nash said.

“Departments will need to actively justify if they don’t want to move, why all or part of their operations are unsuitable for decentralisation.

“Relevant ministers will be required to report to Cabinet with robust business cases for decentralisation by December. It’s important for government to lead by example and invest in rural, regional and remote Australia.”

Unsurprisingly there has been significant backlash from Canberra, but some Tumut locals are speculating that this would be a good spot for a government department – particularly relating to forestry.

“NSW State Forests HQ should be moved from West Pennant Hills to Tumut – I have tried to get this done in the past but have repeatedly hit a brick wall of silence,” said former Mayor Geoff Pritchard.

“The new Snowy Valleys Shire is the centre of the major softwood timber industry in NSW. Not only are there extensive and expanding plantations but also a full range of processing facilities including the massive, and growing, Visy mill and allied industries. All the state’s seedlings are grown at Tumut and the TAFE is the centre for timber industry training.”

The NSW government has formerly relocated the Department of Primary Industries from Sydney to Orange, but it has not as yet announced any plans to join in with the Federal Government’s decentralisation plans.

However, there are reasons for Tumut to be the new locale for any rural-focused public service workforce.

“Tumut is extremely well serviced and has capacity. It is situated in one of the most beautiful areas of the country with access to all sorts of recreational activities,” said Mr Pritchard.

“If [public servants] do not wish to relocate to a regional area where it is more appropriate for their service to be located then their heart is not in the job. Our regions want people who will love the bush and will put their backs into rural development.”

However, independent economic advisory group the Grattan Institute has criticised the idea as taking away from what regional communities really need: investment into reskilling their workforces.

The National Farmers Federation supports decentralisation, provided it doesn’t damage the ability of the departments to work effectively.

NRR President Fiona Simson said she wouldn’t back “relocation of an agency just for relocation sake.”

“Obviously we acknowledge the fact that the Parliament is located in Canberra and the respective departments do the work of government so of course there is logic to proximity,” she said.