ACT News

Community concerns rise amid delayed immigration department announcement

Concerns are mounting as Belconnen residents, public servants and other workers await news of the potential move of 4000 Department of Immigration and Border Protection staff out of the town centre.

The impact of this loss on the local economy, traffic congestion and future planning for the town centre were among the major issues raised at a community forum Thursday night at Belconnen Community Services. 

The department is yet to make a decision about where it will consolidate its 5500 public servants.

Liberal senator Zed Seselja could not say when a decision would be made.

"The latest information I have as of today is nothing has gone to the minister, no decision has been made. The exact timing of this hasn't been determined," he said.

"Any long-term move out of Belconnen would be a significant blow to the Belconnen town centre. I've put that to the former minister in Scott Morrison and I've put that to the current minister in Peter Dutton and his office. I've just been, I guess, hounding the minister's office that these are the concerns of the community."


Senator Seselja hoped considerations beyond monetary costs were taken into account and said he would pass on concerns raised during the forum.

Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh said 2500 people had signed a petition demanding the department stay in Belconnen and the delayed decision boosted anxiety. 

"There's so many shops and people with local businesses who [have spoken] about the harm a closure of Immigration in Belconnen would do," he said.

"The government set a deadline announcement of this tender...and this deadline has come and gone. It's just that sense that there's so much uncertainty."

A range of community and business leaders raised their concerns during the forum.

Belconnen Community Services chief executive officer Dira Horne said the organisation's Social Bean cafe, which employed people with a disability and mental illness, was under threat if the department moved. 

Meanwhile, Peter Blackshaw principal Peter Walter said a lack of confidence sparked by a potential move would stem commercial innovation in the area.

Purdon Associates director Rob Purdon agreed the commonwealth government needed to look beyond just cost efficiencies and suggested a move outside Belconnen could spark more voluntary redundancies as people looked for work closer to home. 

Traffic congestion as a result of Belconnen public servants driving elsewhere for work was a major concern among residents, particularly if the department was relocated near Canberra Airport. The department could move anywhere within a 10-kilometre radius of Parliament House.

The impact of a smaller population on business and town planning if public servant residents moved out of Belconnen to live closer to a new department location was also a hot topic.

Liberal MLA Vicki Dunne said a bipartisan call to action was needed and urged people to start writing to their local representatives.