Small Business Minister to APS: move to the country, your spouse could open a flower shop

By Stephen Easton

Thursday March 2, 2017

Public sector decentralisation is firmly back in fashion, with a move from inner Melbourne to Ballarat on the cards for some Victorian public servants and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce calling for reinforcements in his campaign to shift federal agencies out of capital cities.

Sending agencies regional areas “brings a massive multiplier effect to local small businesses” according to Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack, who declared his support for Joyce’s new “Get out of the city” website today.

Joyce’s website takes the modern approach to activism, making it as easy as possible for supporters to send submissions to the Senate inquiry into the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale, and the well-known challenges it has created for the agency, which featured in this week’s additional Senate Estimates hearings.

In Ballarat, the Courier reports Victoria’s Regional Development Minister Jaala Pulford will announce the relocation of some public sector jobs to the regional city in the not-too-distant future. The Western Australian government is going down a different path it also calls “decentralisation” which involves setting up a series of “hot-desking” centres in outer suburbs around the greater Perth area such as Freemantle, so staff don’t always have to travel right into the city.

The Vic government has already moved 150 jobs from Melbourne to Geelong with WorkSafe, and is spending $120 million building a new office that will house over 700 staff and contractors when complete in 2018. Over 40 employees have already bought homes in the area, according to Minister for Finance Robin Scott.

Decentralisation has been tried before in various forms, abandoned due to the kinds of issues facing the APVMA, and tried again, and it seems its popularity has risen in recent years.

Minister McCormack, the Member for Riverina, says Wagga Wagga in his electorate has previously experienced “the dividend from decentralisation” through the Defence Force’s training facilities in the area and would soon see the benefits of more jobs from the Rural Industries and Research Development Corporation coming to town.

Today, he enthuses: “… every dollar spent in a country small business helps create more jobs, higher wages and better confidence. It helps make more services available locally and vibrant communities for generations to come.”

Country towns and regional cities have great small businesses “from office suppliers to housing loan brokers, removalists, cafes and everything in between” that would help public service agencies that were relocated to them, he said.

Partners and family members of RIRDC staff who move to Wagga Wagga could start their own businesses, the Small Business Minister suggests:

“Investment in Wagga Wagga through the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been part of the city’s character for generations. ADF and Defence personnel’s partners, families and friends have careers and dreams and have relocated to the region and started their own small businesses.

“It’s through the ADF that Simone Eyles – who is a small business success with a start-up hub and creator of a highly-successful global coffee app – came to call Wagga Wagga home.

“Like those who have come to the city as part of the Rural Industries and Research Development Corporation (RIRDC) relocation to Wagga Wagga, partners and families can make a start in small business.

“Country communities back those who take a risk and have a go – just like I do. So take the chance to pursue a small business success and your new home will back you all the way!”

McCormack acknowledged regional communities needed more tertiary education opportunities too. But he imagines public sector decentralisation bringing skilled jobs to regional areas for the long term, giving local young people more opportunities to stay in, or return to their hometown.

Of course, while a lot of city dwellers might dream of moving to the country and opening a bakery or a flower shop, the reality is it’s tough out there for small businesses, and a lot fail within their first few years.

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