Peter Walsh

PUBLIC servants who wouldn’t move to a regional location should start their own business and work where they want, Nationals MP and chairman of the bipartisan federal government inquiry into regional development Damian Drum said in Bendigo this week.

His Victorian Nationals colleague Peter Walsh talked more of a carrot than a stick approach, ensuring health, education and lifestyle amenities were built to encourage public servants to the regions.

“In more recent times, both sides of politics have had a regional development portfolio and it has done some good projects but it probably hasn’t changed the population of Victoria is settling,” Mr Walsh said in Bendigo yesterday.

“It is not something that will happen overnight, but what we want to do is change the mix of where population settles.

“At the moment, Victoria is growing by about 130,000 people a year, over 90 per cent of that growth is in Melbourne.

“It is how you handle the connectivity issues particularly around public transport, and you want to make sure you have the health services, the university and the schooling so that people aren’t moving out to the country and then spending a lot of money to send their kids to Melbourne to go to uni.”

Mr Drum’s approach was more heavy-handed.

On the same day the federal government’s Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority announced as many as 40 of its specialist staff would not move to Armidale, Mr Drum issued a warning.

“They cannot dictate to a government, whether it be a state government or whether it be a federal government, where these jobs must be,” Mr Drum said, referring to public servants in general.

“If they want to dictate the location of their position, then they can go and start their own business and that way they can dictate where they live and where they work.”

The report from the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation, the research for which included a public hearing in Bendigo, was handed down last week with largely bipartisan support.

It recommended continuing public sector decentralisation despite the recent contentious move by the APVMA out of Canberra.

The authority’s chief executive Dr Chris Parker announced this week 30 to 40 specialist staff would remain in Canberra.

But Mr Drum’s Nationals colleague Bridget McKenzie said in Bendigo “that was an internal decision through their planning process but the ultimate goal is to have the whole of the APVMA located over time in Armidale”.

The federal Nationals’ heavy-handed approach to decentralisation is also despite the issue historically attracting partisan bickering and, in many cases, has only occurred with a loss of personnel who did not want to move.

Mr Drum said the Bendigo headquarters of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and Rural Bank were an example of working decentralisation.

Asked if he could get public servants to move to Bendigo, he said: “Without a shadow of a doubt.”

“If you want to take a role in the public service, you take that role where it exists,” Mr Drum said.

“If the outcome and the productivity of the department or the agency is going to be increased by moving that particular agency out of a capital city and into a regional city, why wouldn’t you move that agency or part of that agency out to the regions.”

– Sharon Kemp