Canberra's public service jobs still in government's sights
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Canberra's public service jobs still in government's sights

Canberra public servants, who breathed a collective sigh of release following the departure of Barnaby Joyce to the back bench and ex-Senator Fiona Nash to political oblivion, are going to have to start looking over their shoulders once again.

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The appointment of Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, a staunch advocate of relocating federal public service jobs to the regions, as the new minister for decentralisation makes it blindingly obvious the Morrison Government believes there are significant votes to be won by pork barrelling.

McKenzie was often a lone voice in favour of Joyce's actions in transferring the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to his own electorate of New England during last year's parliamentary committee of inquiry into what has turned out to be an administrative disaster.

The $25.6 million relocation was exposed as a sham when it was revealed up to 40 of its 180 staff, including specialist scientists and regulatory decision makers, would continue to be based in the ACT.  Many other employees chose to transfer out of the authority rather than leave their homes in Canberra.

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McKenzie found herself almost single-handedly taking on the ALP and Greens MPs who questioned the wisdom of the ad hoc and unilateral relocation decision that has effectively crippled an essential agency during the inquiry.

The Senator replaced Nash, a victim of the s-44 debacle, as the Nationals' deputy leader last December.

Nash, the former minister for regional development, local government and the territories, was second only to Joyce in the push to use Federal Public service jobs as chips to shore up Coalition support in the bush.

Her campaign to identify government departments that were suitable for relocation to the regions, launched in April 2017, was only brought to a halt by the fall-out from the citizenship saga.

McKenzie's appointment to an almost identical position indicates the game is afoot once more. This is despite the Productivity Commission's finding decentralisation was a "dud" that weakened departments and did little or nothing for the regions.

Prior to last week's Liberal leadership challenge McKenzie was the Minister for Sport, Minister for Rural Health and Minister for Communications in the Turnbull Government.

Her latest portfolios also include regional services, sport and local government. These all offer numerous opportunities to channel jobs, grant funds and, in the case of the APVMA, entire agencies into marginal conservative electorates that might be in need of a boost.

The elevation of a ministry for decentralisation, when taken in conjunction with Senator Mathias Cormann's appointment as Public Service Minister, signals the need for workers, unions and the ACT Government to be on their guard against further pork barrelling in the lead up to the next poll.

Cormann, who has strongly supported the use of contractors and consultants in preference to professional bureaucrats in recent years, is seen by many as a clear and present danger to the Federal Public Service in its traditional form.