Yesterday, regional development minister Fiona Nash told the Press Club about the Nationals grand scheme to move the public service to the bush. Their decentralisation policy would be applied across the whole of government.
“All portfolio ministers will be required to report back to Cabinet by August on which of their departments, functions or entities are suitable,” Senator Nash said. “Departments will need to actively justify if they don’t want to move, why all or part of their operations are unsuitable for decentralisation.”
“Relevant ministers will be required to report to Cabinet with robust business cases for decentralisation by December. It’s important for government to lead by example and invest in rural, regional and remote Australia.”
In March, Jack Waterford wrote a scathing criticism of this thought bubble.
“Success in politics may entitle a party to expend public resources in support of pet theories or so as to reward and punish enemies, or to seek to cultivate constituencies. But the current Joyce crusade about getting government agencies into the bush – transparently so that the Nationals can out-Hanson Hanson – will do the Nationals no good, will do the country no good, and will do the nation no good.
The big losers from self-indulgent transfers of bodies such as the pesticides regulatory authority to Armidale, in the New England region of NSW (and Joyce’s electorate), will be people involved in agriculture. And the taxpayer, stiffed for an extra $40 million or so. The consequence of the disruption that Joyce is demanding will almost certainly be a worsened access by farmers and graziers to the best agricultural and veterinary chemicals, and a reduced quality of service to Australian agriculture and our export trade. We can scarcely afford it.
Think-tanks, repositories of specialised knowledge, regulators, and consultative bodies only rarely operate effectively away from their key audiences, and away from where the power is. The pesticides authority has almost no direct interaction with farmers or graziers, almost no association with university research, or the sorts of professions educated by institutions such as the University of New England. Very little of its work is on the ground with farmers. Its dealings are with chemical and pharmaceutical companies, with agencies at national and state level, and with the world of regulation, control and information sharing.
[T]he National Party, One Nation and many of the ragbag of people focused on decentralisation, a more human scale society, or, perhaps, the turning back of the clock for a recreation of some imagined monocultural bucolic past can’t get much beyond feelings and prejudices, convictions and emotions. The intellectual sloth and ingrained ignorance of the National Party, or at least its Barnaby Joyce wing, ought to be particularly galling to taxpayers, given the party’s access to the resources, funds and brains of government, and its lack of scruple about the misappropriation of public resources to its own.”
Waterford points out the hypocrisy of the idea when so many government services in rural and regional areas have closed and there are so many other services needed that would be of actual benefit to the community.
We have seen the closure of banks, post offices, schools, TAFEs and police stations, the centralisation of Medicare and Roads Authority offices, the amalgamation of local councils, and the privatisation of employment services leading to the closure of CES offices. Small businesses have been sucked into the vortex of regional cities, concentrating health services and leaving smaller towns without local facilities. The corner store has been replaced by a supermarket, the local chemist and the local hardware shop by large discount warehouses, all much further from home for those in rural and remote areas.
Communities are crying out for aged care facilities, for more teachers and police, for nurses and ambulance officers, for Aboriginal services, for baby health facilities and child care centres, for dentists and doctors and legal aid, for counselling and community support groups to address the tragedy of depression and suicide that is far too prevalent in country areas.
Instead of spending a fortune pork-barrelling and grandstanding and making announcements with no thought of the cost, consequences, logistics or benefit, it’s time the National Party actually did some good for the people they represent rather than playing politics with Pauline.
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