The Community and Public Sector Union is campaigning against the policy to shift public servants to northern Australia. <i>Image: CPSU </i>

The Community and Public Sector Union is campaigning against the policy to shift public servants to northern Australia. Image: CPSU

The federal Coalition wants to shift parts of the bureaucracy to northern Australia to help develop the cities and towns of the region.

However, any changes are likely to be minor, as the agencies nominated already base staff in the north.

The public servants’ union also opposes the shift, saying Liberal leader Tony Abbott is telling staff: ''It’s the outback or the sack.''

Mr Abbott released his party’s northern Australia policy on Friday, saying he was determined to break the ''development deadlock'' that held the region back.

The policy document says a Coalition government will draft a white paper that will ''consider relocation of relevant components of federal government departments and Commonwealth agencies, such as CSIRO and AQIS, to key urban areas in northern Australia''.

''There is an obvious potential logic to relocating those components of Commonwealth functions that are directly (or to a large extent) focused on northern Australia to that region,'' it says.

''Nevertheless, relocation of Commonwealth agencies or functions should only occur where there is in inherent logic, cost advantage and where any such relocation is of advantage to the nation as a whole and to long-term productivity growth.''

Yet the relevant workforces of the two agencies named are already in the region.

The CSIRO has about 60 staff in Alice Springs, Atherton, Cairns, Darwin and Townsville working on tropical and arid-systems research. It also has agricultural scientists in Toowoomba and Woodstock, in Queensland.

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service no longer exists: it became Biosecurity Australia in 2011, part of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Only 40 per cent of the department’s workforce lives in the ACT, and it already has offices in Darwin, Cairns, Mackay and Townsville.

The Community and Public Sector Union’s national secretary, Nadine Flood, said the plan lacked credibility and would cost an enormous amount of money.

“Forcing public servants to choose between staying with their family and communities or following their jobs north would be cruel and unfair.”

She also warned that, under existing workplace agreements, public servants could not be forced to relocate long distances.

“Once again we see Tony Abbott is using the public service as a political football. One day he wants to slash jobs, the next he wants them to pack up and move to northern Australia.”

Last month, Mr Abbott suggested moving “as many public servants as we can reasonably locate outside of Canberra”.

“I'm all in favour of trying to ensure that at least some government agencies aren't in the national capital because I think it's important - particularly when they are service-delivery agencies - for them to be amongst the people they are seeking to help,” he told a Geelong radio station.

Last year, multibillionaire Gina Rinehart argued in favour of a more radical plan to move entire departments, including Defence, to northern Australia.

“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,” she wrote.

About two in every five federal public servants work in Canberra.