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Bashed: new push for PS to go bush

Date

Markus Mannheim

"It's like Disneyland" ... Roy Morgan Research wants Canberra to share its wealth with regional areas.

"It's like Disneyland" ... Roy Morgan Research wants Canberra to share its wealth with regional areas. Illustration: Marco Mana

The federal government should shift parts of its bureaucracy to country towns to ensure the towns survive economically, a top research firm says.

Roy Morgan Research's latest State of the Nation report warns of a sharp divide between Australia's cities and regional areas, marked by growing differences in education, employment and consumer-confidence levels.

However, chief executive Michele Levine says an even greater gap lies between Canberra and the rest of the country, which has a jobless rate almost twice that of the ACT's.

''It's like Disneyland,'' Ms Levine said of the national capital.

''It is like we're being governed from another world … The two-speed economy, I think, is Canberra versus the rest.''

The report, based on a year-long, nationwide survey of 52,000 people, also questioned the Bureau of Statistics' unemployment rate.

Roy Morgan put the national jobless rate at 9.3 per cent in April, almost twice the official figure of 4.9 per cent.

Its survey found people living outside capital cities ranked significantly lower across several socioeconomic indicators.

Only 18 per cent held a university degree, compared with about one in three city residents. Regional businesses were also much less likely to be confident of their futures.

Ms Levine said country towns could be transformed if government agencies were moved out of the ACT to spread the benefits of public investment. ''Country people, from their early 20s through to their 50s, are forced to leave their towns to find work, and these towns are missing the bright young things - well-educated knowledge workers - who could really help to make these places vibrant.''

People had spoken about government decentralisation for years but ''it's been treated like a flippant idea'', she said.

However, she had high hopes the national broadband network could make it happen and said the government had a duty to help regional areas flourish.

''Canberra has extremely high levels of employment and consumer confidence, all centralised and benefiting one area. But why assume that government work should be based in Canberra?''

She said country towns needed new industries, as well as skilled, educated workers, if they were to stay viable.

''We can't keep sending more people into capital cities, which already face many population problems to do with traffic and congestion.''

Ms Levine's comments echo those of multibillionaire Gina Rinehart, who argued earlier this year that federal public servants should be based in the bush and in northern Australia.

In an article in the March issue of Australian Resources and Investment magazine, Mrs Rinehart wrote: ''We need our government departments and government advisers exposed to more of Australia: regions outside of Canberra and the NSW coast, where they usually holiday for their annual vacations.''

Some agencies, notably the Bureau of Statistics, are already shifting their workforces out of the ACT because the city's tight labour market adds to the costs of hiring skilled workers.

In 2010, Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick said there were agencies looking ''at whether there are better ways of attracting the workforce'' by relocating work. About two in five of the Australian Public Service's 167,700 staff work in the ACT.

18 comments so far

  • Building infrastructure in towns like Yass and Goulburn would provide impetus for growth in those communities while making greater use of the road/public transport infrastructure that links them to Canberra. Many people currently commute to Canberra from those locations and if people really liked Canberra they could live there and commute to Goulburn/Yass.

    Commenter
    NigelC
    Date and time
    May 23, 2012, 10:45AM
    • Traffic through the main street of Yass is a nightmare, with no room for upgrades unless you demolish all the main street shops. Moving there would congest everything for everyone and make life more miserable for all.

      Goulburn is a good idea, though. It has an established train system and easy highway access.

      The only issue with relocation is that many public service agencies rely on working closely together for a large number of their services. Video conferencing and other technologies might take care of this issue, but you will essentially be isolating agencies and staff by forcing them to deal with longer commutes or relocating to a boring small town - don't forget that Gen Y have begun their takeover of the APS, and they like convenience!

      Commenter
      Donkey Enough
      Date and time
      May 26, 2012, 7:56PM
  • I voted yes. SOME areas of the public service would be appropriate to outsource, although of course several departments do need a centralised area. However, I'm fairly horrified that I'm agreeing with Gina Rinehardt (however obliquely) and someone who thinks Canberra's struggling and dependant eceonomy is going gangbusters becuase we are, on average, more highly educated. I'm starting to become suspicious that Canberra Times and its parent paper is putting these articles in just to get a rise out of us and provide the Canberra and PS bashers an avenue to air their grievances. Spreading the PS out will raise costs, but as technology increases, the reasons for travel decrease. Here's hoping for a time when Parliament House becomes a bit technical hub for the pollies to dial into from their own seats to have parliament via Skype and leave us in peace to live in the city we love.

    Commenter
    BM
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    May 23, 2012, 10:55AM
    • Um... we really ARE a bush town....

      Sounds to me like someone stiring up reasons to invest in marginal seats. We really need to make the Federal seats in the ACT marginal - that way we might not be the recipient of "blame" for every woe in the country. I know which way I'm voting in the next election (although please please please Malcolm take back the leadership!!!)...

      Commenter
      JDM
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      May 23, 2012, 12:16PM
      • How much was this research firm paid to tell us something that we already knew?

        plus, due to the NBN rollout, then any communication issues should be a moot point...

        Commenter
        gg
        Date and time
        May 23, 2012, 12:18PM
        • What a ridiculous idea. Let's decentralise port facilities and build wharves in Toowoomba, let's decentralise the mining industry and dig up Fitzroy Gardens, why does Tasmania have to import tropical fruit when we could simply build massive greenhouses and grow it all outside Strahan? Industries and services develop where they needs to, that's the free market. Canberra exists, get over it Australia and get back to work.

          Commenter
          Stir the pot
          Date and time
          May 23, 2012, 12:33PM
          • So, tell us, Roy Morgan Research, how many of your offices are in rural locations? I'm sure that with teleconference calls, e-mail, teleph... what's that you say? You absolutely have to be located in Collins St, Melb., Sussex St, Syd., Wharf St, Brisbane. Besides, how could you ever attract quality staff in the bush?

            Commenter
            YS
            Date and time
            May 23, 2012, 12:52PM
            • You can't get a federal goverment department to move out to Gungahlin, so I don't see much chance of them moving any departments to rural towns.

              Commenter
              Bulldog
              Date and time
              May 23, 2012, 1:21PM
              • And once the Departments move, would all of these people be happier with higher costs? The reality is that costs are higher in more regional areas, so the costs of the goods and services that the Public Service would have to increase as well.

                Commenter
                AS
                Location
                Calwell
                Date and time
                May 23, 2012, 2:08PM
                • but staff would have HUGE savings on real estate, petrol etc. Beleive it or not, it is actualy cheaper to live in many regional centres compared to living in Canberra.

                  I would much prefer to be on an EL1 wage livng in a regional cetnre compared to being on an EL1 wage living ni Canberra.

                  Commenter
                  gg
                  Date and time
                  May 23, 2012, 2:53PM

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