Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce wants a new, ‘genuine’ parliamentary inquiry into decentralisation to show its benefits as criticism of the controversial project mounts.
The Coalition government moved on Thursday to form a select committee to probe the policy that would force public servants to leave Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne for bush towns.
As Labor accused the Coalition of controlling the inquiry by drawing committee members only from the House of Representatives, where it has a majority, Mr Joyce said a separate Senate probe into the policy was already stacked with Labor and Greens senators.
“Now we’ve got the opportunity to have a genuine inquiry,” he said.
The committee could travel to more regional areas to show how the Coalition’s decentralisation project would benefit them, Mr Joyce said.
“God bless Canberra. It’s a wonderful place, but we want other parts of our nation to grow,” he said.
Invoking Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam as an advocate for Albury-Wodonga, Mr Joyce accused the Labor party of “inertia”.
The Coalition will establish a new parliamentary inquiry with six Coalition members, three Labor MPs and a crossbencher, likely to be independent MP for Indi Cathy McGowan.
But Labor has warned the inquiry would be an exercise in political spin for the government, which used the Senate inquiry into the troubled relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to encourage regions to show their support for decentralisation.
Labor member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh, said the Coalition had shown it couldn’t come up with a regional development plan that didn’t hurt Canberra.
“Labor has always believed in strong regions, but it doesn’t need to involve decimating the bush capital,” he said.
“Barnaby Joyce’s decision to shift the APVMA to his own electorate will cost taxpayers more and deliver worse services.
“There’s no reason to think that the Coalition’s next hare-brained scheme will be any better.”
Dr Leigh said comments from Queensland LNP senator Ian Macdonald on Tuesday that federal public servants should face the sack if they refuse to go to work in Darwin were “ludicrous”.
“Six out of 10 public servants already work outside Canberra, filling roles in a range of roles in Centrelink, Customs and Medicare,” he said.
“But the policy-making role should stay in the nation’s capital. The nation’s public servants deserve our praise, not condemnation.”
The new inquiry will look at how moving public servants to the bush would “improve governance and service delivery”, identify the characteristics of agencies that would be suited to relocating, and towns suitable to host them.
It will also consider different models of decentralisation, including moving individual roles and parts of agencies.
Ms McGowan, who pushed for the inquiry in late May, said it would develop best practice for moving public service jobs to the bush.
“Decentralisation has incredible potential to deliver growth and prosperity in the regions if done properly,” she said.
“This is a huge win for regional policy and an opportunity to develop a plan towards more cohesive, vibrant, inclusive regions.
“What we want to see at the end of this is a process that embeds regional Australia into policy making and recognises the regions’ individual strengths and circumstances.”
*Please keep in mind the above interactive is just a bit of fun*
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