Regional Victorian town pushes to become DFAT base

Wangaratta mayor Ken Clarke
Wangaratta mayor Ken Clarke
Ned in Chains
Ned Kelly

Ned in Chains Ned Kelly

A northern Victorian region famed as part of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly's stomping ground wants to become the centre of Australian foreign policy.

Wangaratta mayor Ken Clarke has told an inquiry considering federal government moves to decentralise the public service the town of more than 27,000 people could host the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade because of its ethnic diversity and tourism industries.

But such is life for the regional centre that the number of DFAT staff members it could host is limited by the Coalition's decision to rule out moves for policy-related jobs.

The government has asked all departments to indicate that they're suitable to move or justify why all or part of their operation is unsuitable for relocation.

The Rural City of Wangaratta's submission also said the Department of Health or Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development could fit within the local government area, potentially adding hundreds of millions to the local economy.

The unlikely proposal came as Turnbull government ministers considered the National Party-led decentralisation agenda, with business cases for forced moves of non-policy related public service positions from Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne expected by the end of the year.

Planning for decentralisation comes as Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash face High Court rulings on their eligibility to serve in Parliament. Both have renounced dual citizenship amid scrutiny of a group of MPs under section 44 of the constitution.

The Wangaratta pitch says the relocation of just 70 federal public servants would see more than 160 local jobs created, adding $25 million to the regional economy.

Cr Clarke said the moves would have a "significant multiplier effect across the community", with the council providing access to grants and private investments, promotion within local business networks and sustainable development opportunities.

"It is estimated that the economic benefit to the municipality resulting from the relocation of a government agency to the region would be significant.

"Through the effective use of NBN, road, rail and air access and other infrastructural assets these departments would have the benefit of being able to continue business with no impact on the day-to-day workings of government."

Western Australia-based group Regional Development Australia - South West suggested imposing ceilings on the careers of public servants who had no regional experience.

"So far from there being a perceived problem in respect of attracting skilled staff, this would incentivise workers to seek regional postings."

Dairy industry leaders used the inquiry to caution the government against losing staff by relocating agencies, referring to the national pesticides authority's troubled forced move from Canberra to Armidale.

Dairy Australia and the Australian Dairy Industry Council said they had strong reservations about moving government bodies to regional areas when relocations imposed additional costs, put relationships at risk, resulted in possible loss of specialist staff, and reduced effectiveness.

The industry relied on government departments and agencies, and decentralisation would not benefit agriculture if it made them less effective.

"A decentralisation agenda will only be of benefit to regional communities if it is done with the best interests of farmers and the broader agricultural industry in mind. We do not believe a 'one size, fits all' approach is appropriate and take a view that each case should be considered on its merits."

While regional councils and advocates wrote in support of decentralising federal public service jobs, some have told the inquiry that it would be better to locate new government bodies in the bush rather than force established departments and agencies there.

Let's play Barnaby's Bingo. Touch or click on start to set the wheels spinning, then stop to find out who's going where.

Please keep in mind this is just a bit of fun, and the government hasn't decided where Canberra's public servants are going. Or if he has, he hasn't told us yet...

This story Regional Victorian town pushes to become DFAT base first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.