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Government probes moving public servants from Canberra to Tasmania

Date

Phillip Thomson

Election promise: Assistant Public Service Minister Eric Abetz is looking at ways to move public servants to Tasmania.

Election promise: Assistant Public Service Minister Eric Abetz is looking at ways to move public servants to Tasmania. Photo: Peter Mathew

The federal government has taken a step towards buying Canberra bureaucrats one-way tickets to Tasmania.

Recent answers to questions on notice show investigations into moving public servants to the Apple Isle are still on the Coalition's agenda. And the public service minister says  "consideration is under way" on fulfilling the government's election pledge.

If it goes ahead, it would continue the government's push to boost struggling regional economies at the expense of undermining Canberra as the home of the nation's public servants.

It has already pledged to send 600 bureaucrats, 300 from the Australian Tax Office, to Gosford to boost the economy of the NSW Central Coast.

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The government's continued investigations into the Tasmanian job-shift possibility follow a pre-election pledge.

Back then, cuts to Canberra's public service were not expected to be as bad as they have now turned out.

The Coalition's pre-election stance was that it was going to cut 12,000 federal public service jobs, rather than the 16,500 it has now committed to, after finding a 14,500 reduction instituted by Labor. Many of the cuts are expected to occur in Canberra and it could be 6500 in the territory if the cuts are proportional.  

Leading up to the election, the Coalition issued its economic growth plan for Tasmania. It outlined the intuitive sense of moving jobs from the nation's capital to the struggling island state.

The plan pledged the Coalition would shift the jobs when there was an "inherent logic or cost advantage to doing so" and named the forestry functions of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as positions that looked like they could be moved.    

In an answer to a question on notice, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government was committed to boosting jobs and strengthening regional communities across Australia.

"One way to do this is to relocate government agencies or parts of agencies outside Canberra," Mr Joyce said. 

Tasmania's unemployment rate was 7.5 per cent in May, almost 2 per cent above the national average, while the unemployment rate in the ACT this year has been about 4 per cent.  

The two economies are vastly different in terms of living expenses, with Tasmania's median house price sitting at $305,000 - or $385,000 in Hobart - compared with $530,000 in the ACT.

It is not known how any relocation of positions would affect how jobs are classified in terms of salaries.

A spokeswoman for Eric Abetz, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, said the government was not in a position to comment on specific proposals about the public service and Tasmania at this time, "although consideration is under way".

"The Coalition went to the election with a plan to reboot the Tasmania economy, including the $400 million Midland Highway upgrade, the $38 million Hobart airport upgrade, Dial Blythe Irrigation Scheme, the Cadbury tourism proposal and the procurement of a new icebreaker to replace the ageing Aurora Australis to maintain our world leading Antarctic reputation," she said.

"Two other important measures to stimulate economic activity and jobs creation in Tasmania are the Tasmanian Jobs Program, which provides a payment of up to $3250 for businesses that employ job seekers who have been out of work for at least six months and are at risk of long-term unemployment in full-time positions for at least six months, and the Restart program, which provides up to $10,000 in federal government assistance and will be available to individual employers who take on job seekers aged 50 or more."

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