Moving bureaucrats north is 'pork barreling', says opposition

Efforts to move Canberra bureaucrats to northern Australia, the NSW central coast and Tasmania have been labelled by the opposition as Coalition pork barreling which would make the public service less effective.

Fraser MP and shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh said moving public servants to areas across northern Australia would probably not work. 

''Skilled public servants are unlikely to relocate from Canberra to regional communities in the far north, while skills shortages in the regions mean the departments would struggle to find staff to replace them,'' Dr Leigh said.

''The end result would be a less responsive and effective public service.''

A parliamentary inquiry into the development of northern Australia is being lobbied by cities and towns in Queensland, West Australia and the Northern Territory  to relocate public servants to boost their economies.


Last year the Coalition suggested it was open to the idea in the lead-up to the federal election.

The federal government has also promised to send 600 public service jobs to the central coast and was investigating how it could send other Commonwealth positions to Tasmania.

''While we understand the need to develop and diversify northern Australia’s economy, it makes little sense to scatter the Australian Public Service all over the country,'' Dr Leigh said. 

''Departments need to work together more closely than ever to manage the kinds of complex policy issues facing governments today.

''It would be a real concern if we saw more public servants relocated simply to give the government something new to promise the people of northern Australia in the lead-up to the next election.

''This government has already shown a worrying tendency to pork barrel with public service jobs, as evidenced by its decision to shift 600 staff to the central coast for no apparent reason other than that the Coalition has a swag of marginal seats there.''

Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann has called the shifting of public service positions out of the ACT as an attack on Canberra as the national home of the bureaucracy. 

ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja said Canberra should remain the base for the public service but did not say whether he was against relocation plans. 

''Whilst there are some functions of the public service that properly exist outside of Canberra, Canberra is and should remain the pre-eminent home of the Commonwealth public sector,'' Senator Seselja said. 

Last week Senator Eric Abetz, the Prime Minister's assistant minister for the public service, said Canberra's national capital status would not be undermined and added there would be a ''balanced approach'' to shifting job locations.

Relocating bureaucrats from Canberra would come on top of thousands of public service job cuts to hit the territory in the coming three years.

About 6500 jobs would be lost in the ACT if the territory received its proportional share of the 16,500 cuts across Australia.


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