ACT News

MLAs debate Immigration Department move from Belconnen

ACT Labor backbencher Chris Bourke has accused the federal government of treating public servants as "playthings" and called plans to move the Department of Immigration and Border Protection out of Belconnen a pointless and expensive error. 

Dr Bourke used a motion in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday to continue his campaign against the move, arguing it would damage Belconnen businesses, local families and could be reversed if the super department is split in a future government reshuffle. 

Vicki Dunne.
Vicki Dunne. Photo: Graham Tidy

About 4000 department staff could be moved from Belconnen as secretary Mike Pezzullo oversees a search for a new precinct of buildings with 80,000 square metres of office space.

The planned national headquarters need to be within 10 kilometres of federal Parliament and the proposal comes as the department looks to consolidate its 5500 staff throughout the territory.

Belconnen will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016 and has been home to Immigration workers for more than 30 years. 

The motion, passed by the Assembly with the support of the Liberal opposition, follows Chief Minister Andrew Barr's representations to the department over its future in the area. 

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Dr Bourke said the Abbott government plans would bring an end to years of constructive co-operation to promote Canberra's town centres and the national capital. 

"There is no thought for its long-term workers who have made their homes in Belconnen or to the Belconnen businesses, small and large, that serve, and rely on, those workers and the department," he told the Assembly. 

"Immigration's 4000 workers in Belconnen are a major  part of the local community and the Belconnen economy.

"The Liberals have already hit Belconnen with the downsizing of the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the arbitrary removal of a sizeable chunk of it to Geelong. This is to cover for the federal government's killing of the local car manufacturing industry."

Dr Bourke suggested ACT Senator Zed Seselja might "barter his vote in favour of Belconnen" if another challenge is mounted against Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  

This week South Australian Senator Sean Edwards gave his party room vote to Mr Abbott in exchange for an assurance that Australian companies would be able to bid to build Australia's next fleet of submarines.

Department staff are in half a dozen buildings in Belconnen, accounting for more than 60,000 square metres.

About 1500 Customs and Border Protection employees work in five buildings totalling 35,000 square metres in Civic.

Assembly Speaker Vicki Dunne accused Labor members of remaining silent as the former Rudd and Gillard governments cut public service jobs in Canberra. 

"They did nothing because they didn't have the moral fibre or the backbone to stand up for this place against their Labor mates," Mrs Dunne said. 

"I want to contrast that with the work that has been done by Senator Seselja in succeeding in getting funding for new buildings in Tuggeranong to keep the Department of [Social Services] in Tuggeranong." 

The 2014-15 federal budget included $26.8 million over three years for fit out and project costs for office accommodation. About 1800 staff could have moved from Tuggeranong.

Mrs Dunne, a former public servant who worked in Woden and Civic, added an amendment to the private member's motion asking the Assembly to declare its wish for Commonwealth departments to maintain central offices in Canberra as a first priority. 

Two other amendments were opposed by government members.