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Exodus of public servants from Woden gathers pace


Noel Towell and Tom McIlroy

Another federal department will pull large numbers of its public servants out of the struggling Woden town centre in just three months, as the ACT government says it can do little to stem the bleeding of jobs from the precinct.

But as Chief Minister Katy Gallagher passed responsibility for the Woden's demise to her federal counterpart on Thursday, her government confirmed that its own plans to move nearly 400 of its own bureaucrats out of Woden next year remained on track.

On Wednesday, the federal Environment Department said it would abandon its floors in Canberra's tallest building, Lovett Tower, when its lease ran out in June and move its public servants to the city's parliamentary zone.

The department did not confirm how many workers it had in Woden.

The news follows the announcement that the tower's main tenant, Veterans' Affairs, will move to Civic in June 2016 to share offices with the Australian Taxation Office in a move the government says will save $84 million over 17 years. The remaining floors in the 40-year-old landmark block are leased by Prime Minister and Cabinet in a deal that expires the same time as that of Veterans' Affairs.

Paul Weightman, chief executive of the tower's landlord Cromwell Property Group, has not responded to requests for comment.

The ACT government will shift more than 500 of its public servants from locations around the capital, including several buildings in Woden, to the northern town centre of Gungahlin, with the move expected by the middle of next year. Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr said on Thursday that 394 of them would come from Woden where they were occupying the rundown Callam Offices.

The northern section of the once-thriving town centre, is already beset by tens of thousands of square metres of empty offices in derelict 1960s blocks, failed retail and hospitality business and closed federal government shopfronts.

A commercial real estate agent said he was pessimistic about new large-scale office users going to Woden, while retailers at Westfield's Woden Plaza said the exodus of public sector jobs was a factor behind the deteriorating trading conditions.

Ms Gallagher said on Thursday the economic health of the town centre was dependent on decisions made by the federal government and the Assistant Minister for Regional Development, Jamie Briggs.

''Obviously this is an issue we raised with Minister Briggs when we met him a fortnight ago … really it was around decisions that the Commonwealth takes, particularly in their accommodation strategy and how that impacts on our town centres,'' Ms Gallagher said.

''Minister Briggs, as Minister for the Territories, has responsibility for the issues of the national capital.

''We've got some very strong support from Minister Briggs about maintaining town centres and the vibrancy of town centres and the role the Commonwealth plays, so I think the best we can do there is keep the communication going, make sure accommodation decisions by the Commonwealth are made mindful of the broader impact in the city.''


  • Woden might be losing some public servants in the near future, but it is important to remember that there has been quite an increase over recent years. This includes CASA and PSC in Aviation House, centralisation of Health department in recent large buildings, expansion of IP Australia. Woden is still one of main public service hubs. At least the jobs are in Canberra so far.

    It is positive that ACT government is moving some jobs to Gungahlin, they need some jobs out there. Remember when Social Security moved to Tuggeranong in the late eighties and the outrage that caused at the time.

    Date and time
    March 07, 2014, 7:53AM
    • Just another kick in the backside for us southsiders by our tin pot council. Dont they realise there is more to canberra than just the northside.

      Date and time
      March 07, 2014, 8:39AM
      • I'm sure your local member Zed will be happy to help.....oh, that's right.

        Stir the pot
        Date and time
        March 07, 2014, 11:08AM
      • if you think tuggeranong is missing out then complain to your local council. COOMA.

        Date and time
        March 07, 2014, 12:09PM
      • all Katy gallagher cares about is north of lake burley griffin. the northside is geting the light rail system, bucketloads of cash has been thrown at the CBD and Gungahlin. anything south of the lake will become a desert wasteland.

        Date and time
        March 07, 2014, 11:18PM
    • Whatever happens the tax payers will again suffer because their services will inevitably be reduced which always occurs whenever governments decide to reorganise their systems.

      We need a system that does NOT have any politicians run our day to date affairs. I doubt very much that we will ever have a system that is not administered by politician and consists only of highly qualified professionals which are on a contract basis which provides immediate dismissal if they do not perform effectively.

      Politicians are only interested in getting elected or re-elected. Most of them are incompetent/irresponsible creatures who do not give a damn about the people they are supposed to serve.

      Date and time
      March 07, 2014, 8:55AM
      • Au contraire Huggie when you say:

        "We need a system that does NOT have any politicians run our day to date affairs."

        What we need is a system where public servants stay out of our affairs. When cretinous public servance reckon custard is more nutinitional than cheese, it is time for massive reforms of the system.

        The Village Idiot (Reformed)
        Date and time
        March 07, 2014, 12:40PM
    • Rubbish. These moves were planned long ago under labor-greens federal rule. Just as your move of local public servants from Woden to Gungahlin is a decision of our local labor-greens council.
      The current Federal jobs cuts are a result of efficiency dividends introduced under labor-greens rule. We are yet to feel any cuts from the new government, nor would we be expected to with their short time in power.
      Sure things are likely to get even tougher for poor old Canberra, but the current bad conditions have nothing to do with the current federal government. Any comments suggesting this are lies.
      Canberra voters are not fools!

      Mayor Gallagherbarr
      Date and time
      March 07, 2014, 9:54AM
      • I think you’ll find that the new government has increased job losses in Canberra by closing sections such as climate change, reducing graduate positions with Ausaid/DFAT, and is inhibiting job creation by choosing not to create any new legislation/policies. So yes, whilst the previous government did plan some restructure and redundancies, the new government has accelerated the decline and is inhibiting growth in the region.

        Tom Calthorpe
        Date and time
        March 07, 2014, 11:19AM
      • I agree and also disagree. The budget cuts (they are NOT efficiency dividends as that means doing the same with less, not doing more with less) were introduced by Labor/Greens, but if the current government wanted anything different they could have rolled back the cuts. The cut backs have bipartisan support because the public service is always a convenient target before, during and after an election. Yes, the public service needs to improve efficiency, but hacking the numbers of the workforce isn't always the best first step (improving business processes is a far more logical first step forward) - delays and errors will be the next stage as ever diminishing staff numbers starts to bite. If politicians had been running Holden/Ford/Qantas by this method they would have all folded long ago,

        Date and time
        March 07, 2014, 12:27PM

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