Canberra bureaucrats should be forced to Queensland and the NT: Senator Ian Macdonald
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Canberra bureaucrats should be forced to Queensland and the NT: Senator Ian Macdonald

Federal public servants should face the sack if they if they refuse to go to work in Darwin, a former Coalition minister says.

Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald says federal bureaucrats in Canberra live "very privileged lives", describing the capital as a place where buses run every five minutes and hospitals are dotted around the suburbs.

Senator Macdonald says  he wants people sacked if they refuse to "get out of their very privileged lives" in Canberra Sydney or Melbourne.

Senator Macdonald says he wants people sacked if they refuse to "get out of their very privileged lives" in Canberra Sydney or Melbourne.Credit:Jessica Hromas

The former mining minister for regional services believes that public servants should be forced en masse to regional Queensland and the Northern Territory, where he says people are "less demanding" and expect fewer government handouts.

Senator Macdonald was responding to comments in Senate Estimates early this week by Treasury Secretary John Fraser who complained that none of his public servants had been willing to answer a call for help from the territory's bureaucracy.

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Mr Fraser said the NT's public service requested the assistance of a federal Treasury official to work in Darwin for three months but no-one in the top economic agency had been interested, despite the posting being advertised twice.

The Treasury Secretary told the senators on the Economics Committee that it was sad his agency's workers were not up for a "bit of adventure" in the top end.

But Senator Macdonald went further, saying he wants people sacked if they refuse to "get out of their very privileged lives" in Canberra Sydney or Melbourne and move to the regions, he told ABC radio Darwin.

"I would have thought that if a public servants had been asked by their boss, the secretary of the department, to go to Darwin, albeit only for three months, that person should do what was asked of them," the Howard-era minister said.

"I wouldn't have thought that person should be in a position to say 'nah' I"m not going to Darwin."

"I was aghast to hear that no-one volunteered and that people wouldn't go."

The Northern Territory has lost a higher proportion, 15 per cent, of federal public servants since 2013, more than than any other state or territory, down to just 2,220.

But a suggestion this year from another NT Liberal figure, former Country Liberal Party Deputy Chief Minister Mike Reed, that large numbers of public servants from the Prime Minister's department move to Alice Springs was met with silence.

Residents of the national capital might be surprised at Senator Macdonald's impression of their city, which he says has a lifestyle very different to that of northern Australia.

"If you lived in Canberra, you've got a school down every street, you've got a hospital in the next suburb, you've got four-lane highways wherever you go, you've got the very best of telecommunications, of theatre, of whatever aspect of life," he said.

"They just don't get the feel of what it's like to live and work and play in places that are far away from these privileged societies that they, from birth I guess, have always experienced."

Senator Macdonald praised Mr Fraser for opening a Treasury office in Perth but said there should be outposts in Darwin and far north Queensland too.

"I think that if public servants did get out of their privileged lives in Canberra and Melbourne or Sydney and went to Darwin, they'd probably never leave," Senator Macdonald said.

"We find that a lot in Townsville, those who are forced to come there suddenly become its greatest advocates, they love the place."

Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age

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