PROPONENTS of regional reform would move as many of our public institutions from Canberra and other capital cities to the bush as practicable.
A champion of the cause is Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. He got the ball rolling as Agriculture Minister, moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority into his electorate at Armidale.
Many public sector workers and their influential union oppose him, arguing existing jobs should remain in their location, while only new jobs are shifted bushwards.
Decentralisation is a priority for the Nationals and the rural Research and Development Corporations (RDC) make a likely target.
To date just one RDC, AgriFutures, has moved its entire operation to a regional centre. Other RDCs are either partially located in regional centres, or city-bound.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation has offices in Canberra, Perth, Adelaide and Toowoomba, with a satellite office in Dubbo. Australian Wool Innovation is run from Sydney. MLA has offices in Sydney, Brisbane and Armidale we well as eight international offices. The Cotton Research and Development Corporation is based at Narrabri and Hort Innovation has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
The AgriFutures move is a promising example. Managing director John Harvey took AgriFutures from Canberra to Wagga Wagga. Running the RDC in the lower cost environment will payback the $900,000 relocation cost in just one year, he said.
Regional Australia Institute chief executive Jack Archer told an ag policy conference last month that decentralisation could redistribute public sector wages into regional economies.
He said more than 80 per cent of Australia’s workforce is located in its largest cities, where the public service spends four times more on wages than in the regions.
Decentralisation has received some qualified support from stakeholder groups and government agencies and direct opposition.
The Productivity Commission’s study Transitioning Regional Economies reported this month said relocation typically risks quality and cost performance.
“Public service decentralisation is generally a costly and ineffective way of promoting regional development,” the report said.
Government should focus on improving planning and delivery of infrastructure and services.
The National Farmers Federation’s submission to the study offered qualified support but noted “some jobs are best done in the cities”.
The Australian Dairy Industry Council’s had "strong reservations about relocating key government bodies” which could impair their performance.