Standing up for Canberra

The Public Service Belongs in Canberra

This continent was once a series of scattered settlements and colonies and states. Our forebears had the wisdom, strength and determination to bring it all together as one nation.

It was decided to make a new capital—Canberra.

 In the late 1950s the Prime Minister RG Menzies said:

We are stuck with Canberra, whether we like it or not, so we might as well do it properly.

He was determined to make Canberra a capital city of which all Australians could be proud. That included bringing government departments not already there to the capital. Sure, the people involved came kicking and screaming, but they could understand and appreciate that it was practical and necessary to have the relevant people in the same city.

There is no doubt it has helped to create good government. Ministers need to be able to see and speak to their departmental officers and those in different departments need to know each other. It fills me with horror to think of present-day public servants being forced to move away from Canberra. Recently, I heard the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce say there is a chemistry when people meet face-to-face. Exactly so!

Modern communications are brilliant, but real personal contact remains vital. Why are we taking this retrograde step, scattering our government? Why are we spending millions to become less efficient?

All right, I confess. I am quoting from a letter written by Heather Henderson from Yarralumla, who is the daughter of RG Menzies.

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