Decentralisation push

April 26, 2017

Federal Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash has laid down the law to federal departments, telling them to pack up for the country or provide a reasonable reason why they should stay in a capital city.

Speaking at the National Press Club last week, Senator Nash said departments would be consulted as part of the decentralisation process during the coming months.

‘‘All portfolio ministers will be required to report back to Cabinet by August on which of their departments, functions, or entities are suitable (for decentralisation),’’ she 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.’’

Ms Nash said by relocating departments to regional centres regions would ultimately be able to thrive, while costing departments and businesses less.

‘‘Moving government functions to the regions means more people in our towns, more customers in our shops, more students in our schools, and more volunteers for the local fire brigade,’’ she said.

‘‘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.’’

Campaspe Shire Mayor and Murray Group of Councils chairman Adrian Weston said in a submission to the Senate committee on decentralisation, Campaspe Shire Council provided modelling on the potential financial benefits to its region and others.

‘‘Our modelling indicates essentially an increased economic output of $45million if 100 staff relocated to Campaspe,’’ he said.

‘‘As well as essentially around about 70 new jobs in the community, in addition to the government jobs.’’

Cr Weston said while he supported decentralisation, it needed to be a considered approach.

‘‘It’s got to be measured in the sense that I don’t know there’s that much value in doing it for the sake of it. When it’s backed up that’s when it should be done, when they’re relevant to the region,’’ he said.

Cr Weston said many would want to see the Murray-Darling Basin Authority be relocated to a regional centre, something Committee for Greater Shepparton chairman Rob Priestly said was ‘‘logical’’.

‘‘We think any proposal that connects regional centres and the bureaucracy that run them more closely can only be good for Australia,’’ he said.

‘‘It builds capacity in the regional economy, diversifies the economy and gives people alternative career paths.’’

However, Mr Priestly acknowledged it could be difficult and some employees might not be prepared to make the move.

‘‘I think it’s always a risk when you pick up an organisation and put it down,’’ he said.

‘‘But sometimes a bit of clearing away of the dead wood can be very good for a bureaucracy if they have that problem.’’

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