VICTORIAN Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie has slapped down the “Labor dominated” Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee inquiry into decentralisation.
On the eve of the Committee’s first public hearing outside of Canberra, to be held in Townsville in Queensland, Senator McKenzie criticised the lack of regional presence in the public examination of the controversial government relocation push.
While the local council will make an appearance to answer questions in person, the agenda will be dominated by teleconferencing to gather evidence and views from other regional local governments, from Alice Springs Town Council through to Orange in NSW, Bendigo in Victoria and the Shire of Toodyay in WA.
Senator McKenzie said as a member of the “Labor dominated” References Committee, “I am appalled that there is only one hearing outside Canberra – in Townsville”.
She said it was good for Townsville that the Committee was meeting at that location, “but what about the dozens of regional towns who also wanted the committee to hear their submissions?”
“They have to pay the not inconsiderable cost of getting to far north Queensland to present their case, to support the government’s decentralisation program which the Labor Party is determined to cut down,” she said.
“Labor just doesn’t get it and are prepared to play their political games at the expense of the regions rather than have a genuine inquiry into the impacts of decentralisation.
“Labor has an agenda on this which is their right but they should admit that it is a political issue, one in which they are prepared to make regional Australians the scapegoats.”
The Committee inquiry was initiated in February and is due to report on June 9.
It has so far published 200 written submissions from a range of regional and farming groups and other interested stakeholders.
The first public hearing held in Canberra in April saw a critical examination of the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) into Armidale, in the New England electorate of Nationals’ leader Barnaby Joyce.
The Armidale Regional Council is due to face the inquiry in person in Townsville.
Mr Joyce has encouraged public submissions to the inquiry to try and drown-out Labor’s constant criticism of the APVMA move and to uncover positive evidence of community desires to seize on the potential for moving government agencies from Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne, into the regions.
The inquiry’s terms of reference is examining the government policy’s impact on the ability of affected entities to perform their functions properly, including the APVMA’s capacity to regulate farm chemicals.
Labor Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has led the public and media attack on Mr Joyce over the APVMA relocation describing it as a “blatant pork barrel”.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the Senate inquiry wasn’t about decentralisation but about exposing Mr Joyce's policy order on the APVMA relocation “which serves one purpose only, to relocate the APVMA to his own electorate”.
“So far the inquiry has heard evidence about the negative impacts relocating the APVMA is already having on the authority's capability to do its job - sadly the Nationals have chosen to ignore the evidence,” he said.
“We have also seen the Nationals' true colours in their desperate attempt to interfere with the Senate inquiry by trying to change the focus away from the disastrous policy order which is giving effect to the relocation of the APVMA.
“If Senator McKenzie wants a broader decentralisation inquiry she can join Labor in supporting Cathy McGowan's motion for a Joint Select Committee.”
Senator McKenzie said “Labor doesn’t understand regional areas at all; it is prepared to abuse Senate processes to play politics in Canberra”.
“It does so at the expense of regional communities which have strongly supported the proposed decentralisation program,” she said.
“It really is a joke when Labor suggests Councils get their chance to make a submission to the committee in Townsville.
“That chance should have been given to them in local communities much closer to home.”
In its submission, the Armidale Regional Council (ARC) said it “strongly advocates” relocating government bodies to regional locations throughout Australia, and creating centres of excellence such as is proposed via the APVMA.
“The relocation of APVMA is a perfect example of where the establishment of government offices within our region will provide opportunities for genuine partnerships to be forged with locally based organisations including the University of New England (UNE), to create a centre for excellence in Agriculture within our region,” it said.
“These types of initiatives will drive further growth in agricultural productivity, farm production and help to boost rural exports for Australia.
“Our regional economy is underpinned by education, agriculture and technology and this will enhance the delivery of services from the APVMA over time and will attract ancillary and like businesses to the region notwithstanding the partnerships which will evolve with UNE.”