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Gareth Hutchens – 19th April 2017

Government plans to move as many departments as possible to regional areas and calls on corporate Australia to join it.

Coalition announces dramatic public service decentralisation plan

The Deputy Leader of the Nationals, Fiona Nash, announces a sweeping decentralisation program at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP. Click the photo (above) to view the National Press Club address.

The Coalition plans to decentralise as many government departments as possible, moving the positions of city-based public servants to Australia’s regions in a dramatic reshaping of the bureaucracy.

It says all government departments will be asked to justify why they think they are unsuitable for decentralisation if they do not want to relocate.

It has called on corporate Australia to join the decentralisation drive, flagging it as a “long-term project”.

Fiona Nash, the minister for regional development, announced the plan on Wednesday at the National Press Club.

“By midyear I will, in consultation with others, create a criteria for government ministers to assess which departments, functions and entities in their portfolio are suited to decentralisation,” Nash said.

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

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

“The minister for finance will, in consultation with others, develop a template for business cases for decentralisation to ensure a consistent approach across government.

“Relevant ministers will be required to report to cabinet with those robust business cases for decentralisation by December.”

Nash said some departments and functions would unsuitable to move away from Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra – but did not specify which ones. She said her desire for decentralisation was driven by “fairness.”

She said rural, regional and remote Australians deserved the careers and flow-on benefits offered by departments as much as capital city Australians did.

She congratulated Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce for “leading the debate” and fighting for decentralisation in recent years.

Joyce has been heavily criticised for forcing the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale in northern New South Wales.

The forced relocation prompted 20 of 100 regulatory scientists to leave the agency, despite APVMA employees being offered significant incentives to stay.

Joyce defended the move last month after reports relocated public servants had been working out of McDonalds in Armidale because of a lack of suitable office facilities.

He said the Nationals were committed to decentralisation to spread “the largesse of government in a more abundant way across the nation, not have it in little pockets, or one pocket, called Canberra”.

Nash said on Wednesday there were numerous examples of successful decentralisation efforts, including the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries in Orange, the Grains Research and Development Corporation in Dubbo, and the Centrelink and Asic call centres in Traralgon, Victoria.

She said the government would not be pursuing decentralisation at all costs.

“It’s about determining the appropriate departments, parts of departments, agencies that can move to the regions,” she said.

Let’s put the RURAL back into the Rural Fire Service.

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