Queensland pushes public service regionalisation agenda

By Stephen Easton

Thursday January 28, 2016

When Australian government leaders look at their public service agencies, they increasingly see them as economic chess pieces to be moved around their jurisdiction and stimulate growth in certain places.

The Queensland government is setting up its new agency Jobs Queensland in the centre of Ipswich, west of Brisbane, in line with premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s previously stated commitment to public service regionalisation. At first there will be 10 staff plus board members in the new Ipswich offices with more to come, according to a report in the Queensland Times.

Local member Jennifer Howard, who lobbied for the jobs with the coincidentally employment-focused agency to be based in her electorate, spoke for the benefits of placing public servants in satellite cities like Ipswich: “We have got the space and the connectivity to Brisbane, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast.”

There is a growing trend around the country towards basing public sector jobs in regional centres, but usually not far from major cities, where rent is cheaper and public money spent on wages and some procurement is directed further out towards the economic periphery.

The ACT government has tried to do the same, albeit on a smaller scale. It has housed about 600 public servants in the northern town centre of Gungahlin since mid last year. It plans to have about 1100 in Woden and 1000 more in Dickson very soon. New office space to be built right next to the ACT legislative assembly will accommodate a further 1700 ACT public servants, but the intention to spread the economic stimulus of public service jobs around the territory is clear.

“Politicians are increasingly taking the view publicly funded entities are dual-purpose instruments …”

However, ACT politicians would prefer not to see any further regionalisation of the federal public service. Last year, the local Liberal opposition even expressed “vehement opposition” to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s proposal to shift some organisations in his portfolio to regional centres like Wagga Wagga, with support from their former colleague, Liberal Senator for the ACT Zed Seselja.

Politicians are increasingly taking the view that publicly funded entities are dual-purpose instruments — funded by the taxpayers to perform a primary role but also valuable economic pump-primers — and accordingly making strategic decisions on where they are located.

The Department of Finance is keeping the option of procuring some whole-of-government corporate services from overseas on the table, as part of its latest push to achieve significant efficiency gains through shared services.

If it does, Finance is sure to cop flak from some quarters for not doing its part to keep Australian dollars flowing around Australia, as the Australian Taxation Office is for outsourcing some application development work from Accenture, which is using a work site in the Philippines.

Cross-bench senator Glenn Lazarus summed up this view yesterday as he attacked the ATO’s arrangements, announcing he was “dead against” any government funds trickling out of the country via public service outsourcing:

“Governments have an obligation to use taxpayer funds in Australia and to employ Australian workers.”

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