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The pay-off: public servants offered big bucks to stay with APVMA

Taxpayers face an even greater slug for Barnaby Joyce's relocation of a Canberra public service agency to the heart of his own electorate, with desperate bosses at the pesticides authority considering pay rises of up to 15 per cent in order to convince staff not to quit.

The pay rises would come on top of a 1.5 per cent retention bonus for workers still with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority in December 2017, a 3 per cent bonus if they remain on the books until December 2018 and a 10 per cent if they are still around when the Canberra office shuts in mid-2019.

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Up to 12 free return flights a year between Canberra and Armidale are also being considered as an inducement for workers at the APVMA if they agree to make the move from their homes in and around the capital, 800 kilometres north to the northern NSW town.

Fairfax revealed this month that only 10, at most, of the APVMA's regulatory scientists were prepared to make the move to New England, the electorate of Deputy Prime Minister Mr Joyce, who is also Agriculture Minister.

The authority's relocation strategy estimated that just 100 of the authority's 190 public servants would be prepared to move to Armidale, in what is expected to be a relocation mainly of the agency's "scientific leadership".

The strategy also raises the possibility that APVMA workers might be able to stay in Canberra in the medium to long-term if they were prepared to work from home and if secure IT infrastructure could be developed.

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But documents seen by Fairfax reveal the lengths to which the authority's management might be prepared to go to keep their workers, with a draft of the relocation remuneration policy outlining retention bonuses and pay rises of up to 15 per cent for workers who go to Armidale and stay there for three years.

For relocating staff members, there could be a pay increase of 5 per cent on their annual salaries from the first day in Armidale for the first year with an additional 5 per cent increase for each of the second and third years.

A two-year transition is envisaged and, while some staff will need to be based in Armidale from day one, they would be mainly senior managers. Others would be allowed stay in Canberra during the transition.

Some employees may be able to stay in Canberra beyond two years, pending the right IT facilities and would be entitled to the retention bonuses outlined in the draft plan.

The authority did not answer a series of questions last week, referring inquiries to public relations agency Sefton's which has been hired to undertake the media relations on the move, but which did not respond to a request for comment.

The relocation of the APVMA to Armidale has been widely criticised, with business groups from the agricultural sector saying business would be hit by the disruption.

Federal and territory Labor politicians and unions have also raged against the move but TV personality Don Burke has come to the defence of Mr Joyce and his plans.

A cost-benefit analysis of the relocation plan revealed that taxpayers were to be hit with a $25.6 million bill just to move the authority and that $157 million a year would be ripped from the Canberra's economy as well as costing the ACT region 365 direct and indirect jobs.

In December it emerged that the pesticides regulatory authority says it does not have enough staff to undertake its work on time, even before the move gets under way, with one section at half strength.

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