The Department of Infrastructure has opened a Regional Programs branch office in Orange as part of the federal government’s decentralisation plan.
Regional development minister Michael McCormack and decentralisation minister Andrew Gee officially opened the new Byng Street office in August.
Up to 31 people will be hired at the new building, in roles ranging from entry-level positions to senior executive management.
At the opening, Gee said two revelations have come out of COVID-19 that relate to decentralisation: the importance of telehealth in enabling regional residents to access vital services, and the realisation that many people can perform their jobs from home. He also argued that due to the impacts of the pandemic on job security, “people are now looking at the regions in a new light” and are considering moving to the country.
“And to me that just opens up a world of possibility for decentralisation. We need to get more of those folks from working at home in the suburbs of the big cities,” he said.
“We need to make sure that people in the country have the same access to services, the same access to infrastructure and the same access to job opportunities. And these are job opportunities, make no mistake. And they are important job opportunities because they are all about building the future of country Australia.”
Gee listed a number of relocations since 2013, including the move of APVMA to Armidale, the ATO to Gosford, AgriFutures to Wagga, and the Regional Investment Corporation. In terms of which other departments the government is considering for decentralisation, Gee said “everything is on the table”.
“I am trying to get as many [departments] as we can out to the country, but I think we just need to keep in mind that it is not just government departments that we are interested in,” he said.
“I think there is a lot of work that can be done in getting private businesses and individuals out. So, we don’t even just have to get the firms out. If firms want to let their employees come and work in the country, I think that is important as well.”
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A whole-of-government decentralisation policy is currently in the works, Gee said, and would look at tackling the barriers to decentralisation for private firms and government agencies.
According to a 2018 parliamentary report, the benefits of decentralisation of Australian Public Service roles include bringing government services closer to people, aligning agencies to specialist regional areas and resources, tapping into specialist skills and experience of people living in regional areas, reducing operating costs for government, and reducing congestion and population pressure on capital cities.
However, the report noted that without the necessary infrastructure investments, decentralisation could have negative impacts on towns by putting pressure on health services, schools, and other services. Towns could also become dependent on the agency as its main economic driver, making it vulnerable to machinery of government changes or policy changes. A department moving to a regional location may also create a perception of the entity favouring that region, the report said.
This news story originally ran on 18 August, 2020.