Often a source of surprise, Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce may have been surprised himself last year when The Land newspaper, which serves his rural constituency so well, reported on his plan to relocate bureaucratic agencies to regional centres.
The newspaper reported on job casualties revealed when NSW Labor Senator Doug Cameron led a painstaking examination of the government's decentralisation push for key agencies, such as the Grains Research and Development Corporation, at Senate budget estimates.
Under the on-line article, rural people wasted no time questioning the rationale. Instead of applauding Mr Joyce's decentralisation push, one angry farmer asked:
"Do you think the staff members of these organisations are untrained hillbillies? They are highly skilled, highly trained professionals that cannot be substituted by anyone.
"Do you seriously think that a town like Wagga Wagga has 60 odd people hanging around with the skills required waiting for an RDC to turn up? As for saving money, how many years will it take with slightly lower rent to replace the loss of staff capacity and therefore the loss of subsequent production. You are so naive to believe the rhetoric. It is about National Party votes."
On Wednesday Mr Joyce pushed on with his plan, announcing the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation will relocate 12 staff to Wagga Wagga, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation will move four to six staff to Adelaide and the Grains Research and Development Corporation will relocate half of its 50 or so staff to Dubbo, Toowoomba, Adelaide and Northam in the next two years.
"As marvellous as Lake Burley Griffin is, there are not many fishing grounds in it, so why we have the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation here has always perplexed me," he said.
On that logic, senior staff at Australia Pork should relocate from Barton to Young, and the Minerals Council of Australia's national secretariat might like to shift from Kingston to Broken Hill.
Instead, they operate out of Canberra, like many national industry groups, to reap the well-documented benefits of clustering. Increased productivity, more rapid innovation, huge time and transport savings and networking spring from clustering of skilled people, who are often leaders in their fields.
Canberra's clustering has been constructed over a century, built around the country's centre of administration, which is strengthened as a result.
Diluting such clusters of key people in research to pork barrel in the bush is risky. For starters it is unlikely to lure high-performing staff away from their colleagues, away from their tertiary health services and education institutions where their children are enrolled, to start afresh in an office of questionable origins.
The evolution of government agencies has been marked by mergers and consolidation, a more difficult task in future once corporations are fragmented and sprinkled across regional centres to bolster the political fortunes of rural members of parliament.
In recent years the drive of successive governments for efficiency and savings has left in its wake a 14.9 per cent vacancy rate in Canberra's office market, second only to Darwin and Perth. Instead of hollowing out these buildings more, Mr Joyce should not exempt himself from making the best use of these resources, rather than duplicating them elsewhere.