For all the spin and posturing that has surrounded Australia's debate over federal government jobs moving to the regions, it can be refreshing instead to look at the cold numbers.
Whatever governments, oppositions, regional councils, business chambers and states say, statistics can provide clarity that's easily lost in the fog of public campaigns for and against decentralisation.
Of course, anyone can put a spin on numbers. It's just harder to do when they're presented in full. The picture painted by the Australian Public Service Commission's data showing where the nation's public servants are located tells us much that's been overlooked.
The Coalition government has presided over growth in inner-city public service job numbers while those in outer suburbs and most of the bush have languished.
Regional towns may have grown their share of federal bureaucracy employment since the change of government, as it has done since 2002, when the data begins. But despite the bombast from the Nationals about growing the bush's proportion of government jobs, the numbers alone show there are fewer federal public servants in most regions than before 2013.
If it weren't for job losses in the outer suburbs - Sydney's west and throughout Melbourne and Brisbane - the regions' share of Australian Public Service employment may have fallen too.
It didn't, and the regions could thank the Coalition for wielding the axe more evenly than that, if they wanted. That would ignore the significant government job gains that inner Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane have made. The Nationals speak of decongesting the cities and sending public service jobs where they're needed, in ailing regional economies. Instead, since 2013, the busiest parts of Australia welcomed more federal bureaucrats.
While regions aren't the only areas that have lost public service jobs - Canberra was the worst hit - the movement of public service jobs into the inner districts of the eastern seaboard's three largest cities contradicts the Coalition's decentralisation message. The Nationals have made hay out of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority's move bringing jobs to Armidale, but for all the pain involved, the town will gain 140 jobs while regions elsewhere have lost many more.
As academics point out, this isn't only a question of numbers, and the discussion shouldn't be about moving jobs for the sake of boosting regional employment alone. The number of government jobs, within financial limits, should be tailored to the role agencies are meant to play and the tasks the public wants them to have. Where jobs are located depends also on where the government's clients are, when it comes to service delivery. For policy, public servants are best off working near their ministers.
Unfortunately, the Nationals' former leader Barnaby Joyce tended to cast decentralisation in combative terms, as a project mainly to create regional jobs at the expense of Canberra, no doubt shoring up the party's appeal among its actual and potential voters in the weatherboard and iron.
For the ACT particularly, it looked a threatening zero-sum project where the regions' gain became the national capital's loss. Decentralisation didn't have to begin on such terms. The Nationals have softened the rhetoric since, and have vowed a methodical approach.
If the party is real about helping country towns, the Coalition should locate jobs in regions when it's sensible to have them there, rather than cloud airwaves with empty bombast and loud anti-Canberra decentralisation campaigns.