Standing up for Canberra

The government's failing decentralisation policy

If a good decentralisation plan includes a well planned and executed proposal, with the benefits outweighing the cost, then the Turnbull government has clearly failed. The number of times this Turnbull government needs to be told that its decentralisation policy is an absolute mess shows its breathtaking arrogance. 

As we heard from the member for Whitlam, this is being done in a piecemeal way without strategic vision, without a holistic plan, without any agenda. The only agenda is basically for those opposite to secure their seats. That is the only agenda we have operating here.

The Deputy Prime Minister, when asked last year about ignoring the cost-benefit analysis of a classic case of what not to do when it comes to decentralisation—the proposed move of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale—said, 'If you're going to premise it on the cost-benefit analysis, we wouldn't do it.' Okay. So if the cost-benefit analysis is not there for moving 250 Canberrans, APVMA staff who are experts in their field and who have been working in this area for decades, and making their families go through that huge and wrenching change of moving to a new city, then why are we actually doing this?

I will just run through what the cost-benefit analysis showed about the APVMA. The cost-benefit analysis itself cost $272,000 and it showed that the relocation will cost at least $23 million, excluding, as it does, any potential cost to industry arising from the risks to the agricultural sector, the chemical industry or Australia's trading reputation. The cash cost to the government could be significantly higher than the estimated economic cost of $23.19 million with relocation, construction, facilities and incentives. Already this figure has risen up to $25.6 million, as we heard in Senate estimates, and it will continue to climb.

So we've got a decision that's been made to potentially relocate the APVMA up from Canberra to Armidale on a cost-benefit analysis that essentially has shown that it is all cost and no benefit, not just to those families who are being relocated but to the agricultural industry, because, since the Deputy Prime Minister made this outrageous decision to relocate APVMA, the approvals have plummeted. So it is not only affecting those families and the Canberra economy, it is affecting the agriculture industry. And this is from a Deputy Prime Minister who is also the minister for agriculture. It's breathtaking in its incompetence.

A range of reviews have been done into the pork barrel that is the relocation of the APVMA from Canberra to Armidale. In 2016, there was a warning to the Deputy Prime Minister that his proposed move would have severe consequences, yet his reckless and selfish decision to relocate the APVMA is damaging the industry he purports to represent. As I said, the figures on approvals have plummeted. Earlier this year, the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee handed down its report into the order that gave the power to relocate the APVMA from Canberra to Armidale. A key recommendation in that report was that the order be revoked. The committee confirmed that the APVMA's proposed move was a blatant and shameless pork barrel. The report said:

The lack of clarity regarding the decision-making process and the absence of a transparent selection process leads the committee to conclude that there is only one obvious driver for the decision, and that is political self-interest.

What is driving this huge wrench for these families, this fall in approval processes in the agriculture industry and the loss of 20 per cent of the expertise in the regulation of agricultural pesticides and veterinary medicines that took decades and decades of time to build up is political self-interest. Political self-interest is the one reason for making this relocation. It is the one reason for making this change.

The government has a plan for more decentralisation. I am really concerned about how it is going to go about it. If the APVMA relocation is anything to go by, the decentralisation plan is going to be a complete dog's breakfast. It has no clear agenda, no clear mission and no clear vision and it is without a well-executed plan for what it is trying to realise. What, apart from political self-interest, is the government trying to achieve with this? Political self-interest is the driver, as it was with the APVMA relocation.

To add insult to injury, the Deputy Prime Minister not only moved people from Canberra to Armidale to go and work, he didn't offer them office accommodation. They were working from McDonald's because there was nowhere for them to work. Once again I underscore the fact that if you're going to have a plan for decentralisation make sure it is well executed. Make sure that you have office space for the staff you are relocating so that they don't have to link into the wi-fi at the McCafe. It is basic stuff, people: make sure it is not driven by political self-interest.

Ms Ryan interjecting

Ms Brodtmann: Yes, it is breathtaking. I encourage Canberrans and those who have an interest in decentralisation to make submissions to this decentralisation inquiry to remind the Turnbull government why Canberra was established and remind the Turnbull government that 60 per cent of government staff are not located here in Canberra but are located right around the country. So the notion that all public servants are based in Canberra is a complete and utter nonsense. It is a complete furphy, a complete lie, that is being peddled by the Turnbull government. Canberra: please make submissions to this inquiry. Please remind the government that Canberra was actually set up to be the nation's capital.

Canberra draws a thread through this nation, and this House is the centre—the knot where that thread joins. Canberra was created to bring our nation together. It is, in a way, the epitome of Canberra. Canberra was nurtured and loved by the founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies. The founder of the modern Liberal Party invested significant sums in building up Canberra so Australians could be proud of their nation's capital. What do those opposite do? They just tear it all down. They are unpicking Sir Robert Menzies's legacy. They are unpicking it! It begins with APVMA. Where is it going to end? This place will be completely denuded if they have their way with their crazy decentralisation plans driven by political self-interest.

I encourage Canberrans to make submissions to this inquiry. It is vitally important to the preservation of our nation. It is vitally important to the protection of Sir Robert Menzies's vision that we actually have the Canberra view in this space. Sir Robert Menzies's daughter, Heather Henderson, has been highly critical of these nutty, ill-thought-out decentralisation plans. The government should be ashamed. They should be ashamed that they are basically unpicking Sir Robert Menzies's vision. He would be turning in his grave.

When I make a submission to the inquiry I will be asking the committee to show—like we haven't had for the APVMA—that any decentralisation has to have a demonstrated net benefit to our nation and does not come at the expense of Canberra, our community, our economy or effective and efficient governance.