Research agency to replace up to 75% of staff after pork-barrel goes bad

By Stephen Easton

Thursday August 25, 2016

Wagga Wagga will enjoy a negligible economic boost when three existing public servants and up to nine more vacant jobs come to town along with the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, while the loss of corporate knowledge for the tiny organisation is likely to be much more significant.

Rural affairs newspaper The Weekly Times reports that as a result of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s plan to move agriculturally focused entities into regional areas, RIRDC managing director John Harvey will bring just two staff with him.

The corporation’s board resolved in February to agree with Joyce’s request for the RIRDC to move to the regional city, which is home to well over 55,000 people, and began the process on July 1. The move is expected to cost $1.4 million, Harvey told a Senate estimates hearing last year, which comes out of his existing budget.

Harvey plus the two other staff who will join him represent a quarter of the tiny body, which has recently downsized from 18 to 12 staff in total. Six jobs were recently advertised in Wagga Wagga.

Joyce has argued it is logical to relocate and open new regional offices for all the independent agricultural research bodies in farming regions that also host universities and research facilities, like Wagga Wagga’s Charles Sturt campus.

His decision to relocate the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale for the same reasons has been criticised as pork-barelling in his own electorate, and could seriously damage the regulator’s ability to do its core job and its efforts to bed down years of organisational change.

Joyce has also repeatedly spruiked the plans as a way to “boost jobs growth and investment in these communities” — a dubious claim that will be all but impossible to prove in most cases.

There have also been persistent criticisms that the loss of corporate knowledge due to the almost inevitable staff turnover that will result won’t be worth the tens of millions of dollars that Joyce’s decentralisation plans will cost.

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