Nearly 600 Canberra public servants will be ordered to pack their bags and move to towns in rural NSW and Tasmania, under a under a federal government decentralisation plan.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has ordered the bosses of three rural research and development corporations – Grains, Rural Industries and Fisheries – to keep the proposals secret from their workforces.
The Minister also wants The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to move its 178 staff 750 kilometres north from Canberra to Armidale, in Mr Joyce's New England electorate.
He has asked the agencies for fully costed plans for the moves and if word of the plans leaked out, bosses were to assure staff that they should be reassured that no decision would be made without consultation.
In a letter leaked to rural newspaper The Weekly Times, the Minister also instructs the agencies that there would be no new money to pay for the moves and that costs "must be met from within [the]corporation's budget reserves".
Under the plans, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation would be off to Tasmania, the Grains Research and Development Corporation would be packing its bags for Albury and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation would be on the road to WaggaWagga.
The news follows a request from Nationals MP Andrew Broad for the government to consider moving the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and most of its 292 full-time staff, from central Canberra to Mildura in Mr Broad's Mallee electorate.
In his letter, Mr Joyce said the government was "committed to boosting jobs growth and strengthening communities across Australia" through relocating its agencies "outside of Canberra".
Agencies have been asked to "explore options for co-location with a regional university" to "boost opportunities for collaboration".
But Mr Joyce's plan was drawing fire as soon as it leaked, with the Council of Rural Research and Development Corporations chairman Selwyn Snell telling The Weekly Times the plan was an attack on $100 million for agricultural R&D spending.
Mr Snell said it was up to individual RDCs to determine where they were based and how they best met industry needs.
"They don't provide a shopfront service to primary producers, but do work with people across industry, government and the research community," he said.
Opposition Agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon was also on the warpath saying Mr Joyce had betrayed rural R&D and any extra funding was offset by cuts elsewhere or "massive redundancy bills".
"You will not get highly qualified Canberra bureaucrats moving to Wagga Wagga, or whatever town Barnaby Joyce decides on today," he said.