What’s the business case for federal Treasury offices beyond Canberra’s bubble?

There’s now bipartisan support for federal Treasury offices outside Canberra, to “keep their finger on the pulse”. A big Sydney play is going ahead and Perth looks set to be in line for its own outpost, but is it all about Asia, or state interests?

Both major parties want to open regional offices of the federal Treasury, but it’s been tried before and a detailed business case is yet to be made for why things are different now.

There’s nearly $16 million budgeted for Treasury to set up shop in Sydney, where it will reportedly move most of its markets division. The opposition supports that policy and pledges to go further if it wins government, spending another $2.8 million on a Perth outpost with 15 staff.

Treasury had regional offices for a few years in the 1990s before they were closed again to save money, but the idea returned to favour once again after last decade’s international financial meltdown. Joe Hockey grumbled about the accuracy of the department’s forecasting in opposition and shortly after he became treasurer, The West Australian reported the Sydney move was on the cards with offices in Melbourne and Perth likely to follow. “To go beyond the ABS data, you talk to people, go to forums, meet with people on boards — people who have to keep their fingers on the pulse.”

Supporters of the idea say regional offices close to where most of the economic action takes place would allow more consultation with key private sector players, leading to better policy and more accurate forecasting. It is also often suggested that talented staff would be easier to attract and retain if moving to Canberra wasn’t always part of the deal.

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  • jasonmurphy

    This is a constant pulse in organisational management. One generation will spread out head office to be closer to customers. The following generation will centralise to improve communication. The same goes with splitting and re-combining public service departments – see DMO and Defence for the latest example.

    Policy is about the interchange of ideas. If the markets group moves to Sydney, the markets group might get some benefits from the external world but it will lose the benefits of interplay with the rest of Treasury and government.