National

Federal government eyes vacant office space in Nishi Building to cut costs

The federal government is finalising plans to move more public servants into the capital's high-tech Nishi Building in Acton, which has been sitting near half-empty for more than a year.

Close to 12,000 square metres will become progressively available at the multi-use building in coming months with another 6000 square metres becoming available at the Treasury building in Parkes.

The vacant space presents the government with further opportunities to reduce leasing costs across the public service with more than 34,000 empty desks spread across 500 plus buildings nation-wide.

Last year the government announced a strategic bid – dubbed Operation Tetris – to save taxpayers millions of dollars by condensing office space after years of redundancies and downsizing.

"Agencies have been identified and arrangements are currently being finalised to backfill the surplus office space," a finance spokeswoman said.

The department would not confirm which agencies have been approached for the move – describing the information as "commercial in confidence" – but a spokeswoman confirmed the Nishi building had a vacancy rate of 60 per cent.

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The building, which was leased for $158 million to accommodate 750 public servants, is home to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Safe Work Australia.

When the six-star energy-rated office was leased to the now defunct Department of Climate Change, it was criticised by the Coalition as one of the worst property deals for the Commonwealth in 20 years and as "an unbelievable reckless waste of Australian taxpayers money".

The Treasury building, which the government considered selling in early 2015 to balance the budget, is currently at 90 per cent capacity according to the Department of Finance.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has claimed real estate reshuffles in Canberra – not including the forecast Nishi and Treasury building moves – will save taxpayers close to $200 million.

"Based on rent rates the average lease cost across these tenancies is approximately $460 per square metre per annum," he told a senate estimates hearing earlier this year.

"This represents a total saving of $197 million over the analysis period of 10 years."

Earlier this year, the department detailed the savings, based on a number of moves including the Department of Veterans Affairs taking 10,217 square metres within the ATO's building in Civic.

The move, which saw more than 700 public servants leave Canberra's tallest building in Woden in January, left property managers concerned about the future of the town centre.

The Australian Electoral Commission, the Digital Transformation office and the Department of Education have taken 7500 square metres of space at 50 Marcus Clarke Street.

The Shared Services Centre has taken 10,873 square metres in Garema Court, while Safe Work Australia claimed 1855 square metres in the Nishi building.

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