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Barnaby’s thought bubble is blatant pork-barrelling

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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  1. Matters Not

    That Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce can somehow get the Cabinet to endorse such activities says so much about their power while at the same time demonstrating Turnbull’s impotence. No doubt the mandarins are already plotting – setting numerous booby traps for these young, amateur players.

    Proposing to decentralise while having a third rate NBN is the height of stupidity.

  2. Terry2

    Fiona Nash pointedly said that nobody would be forced to move as part of this decentralisation policy and that had some of the assembled media at the National Press Club raising eyebrows as she had just made it clear that :

    “Departments will need to actively justify if they don’t want to move, why all or part of their operations are unsuitable for decentralisation.”

    To me it sounds as though once the decision to move you out of Canberra – some would argue that Canberra is aleady a regional area – has been made you have ‘Hobson’s Choice – ‘take it or leave it’.

    I feel for those public servants and their families who are battered from pillar to post with efficiency dividends, cuts and now, at the whim of a politician, they are going to be told where they must live and work, where they must school their children and where their partners must pursue their careers.

    This, if it is anything more that a thought bubble, will cost hundreds of millions of dollars – guess who pays ? – massive family disruption – can you imagine moving your kids away from their friends and home environment particularly in their high school years ? There will also be intended and unintended artificial impacts on real estate markets.

    Sometimes we are forced to relocate due to job demands and we just have to live with it but in this case it is purely political social engineering brought to you by the National Party.

  3. Matters Not

    It will solve the ARU dilemma. The Plus500 Brumbies will be chopped. The Raiders plundered.

    More seriously, the Commonwealth car pool can be relocated to Tamworth.

    It’s all about National Party power.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Also from Waterford’s article…

    Perhaps one could forgive the Pauline Hanson One Nation movement a bit of opportunism and intellectual sloth – given her lack of education and the fact that Hanson is a magnet for people with nutty ideas.

    But one cannot be as forgiving of Barnaby Joyce, or the National Party. The Nationals are a party of government, with, much of the time including now, access to the experience, academies and resources of the state. They have no known scruple about expropriation of public money for its own ends, but are supposed to be tactical, if not strategic about it. I cannot think of a single one of Joyce’s predecessors as leader, alive or dead, who would not despise both his arguments and his priorities, even as they recognise that his every stunt and bizarre attention-seeking statement is focused on making a vote for the Nationals seem more rational than one for One Nation.

  5. helvityni

    Yes, Canberra is already a country town, a regional set-up, especially ‘made’ for civil servants and politicians; maybe not the most exciting place on earth, but no doubt improving as it grows…

    I’m starting to think that our present day leaders are playing God, sending people back to where they came from, putting them into camps, scheming to move people from country towns, well, to other country towns, asking Trump of all people to take some of ours…

    What next? 🙂

  6. more mainstream everyday

    the National party is owned by Gina. they do what Gina wants.

  7. Frank Smith

    Thanks Kaye Lee – well said! And Barnaby’s pork-barreling exercise with the pesticides regulatory authority movement to Armidale has gone so well, hasn’t it? And Nash and the Nats want to replicate that big time? Unbelievable!

  8. michael lacey

    Neoliberals don’t want government regulation or direction they want the market place to dominate with privatisation and the many myths that surround to take front stage. They will set everything run by government up to fall by defunding or cutting back, destabilising and disrupting.

    The purpose of government funded public infrastructure is not to make profits but to lower the cost of doing business, sometimes called the socialisation of the means of production. Countries that are able to fund public education, roads, energy grids, water and sewerage and communications will outperform those that do not because businesses operating in such an environment will have lower costs.

    The neoliberals want to privatise everything that they can extract value from and the people will pay! Their whole existence is extraction and the maximising of profits for big enterprises; that is the neoliberal basic operational discipline. And when they are offered a monopoly, or an oligopolistic position, such profiteering can be undertaken aggressively. It is essentially an invitation to be a parasite.

  9. Jaquix

    Amazing that a party that garners 3% of the national vote, weilds such power over the Liberals. Surely this is an issue that should have been taken to the last election? The temerity of it is breathtaking and I hope the senate sees through this, and stops it in its tracks. Decentralisation can work, but certainly not in the way Barnaby and Fiona are proposing. They are only thinking of this in terms of themselves. There is a lot more to it than that. Shorten could challenge Turnbull to call a snap election on this.

  10. Frank Smith

    The ideal place for Frydenberg’s Dept of Environment and Energy to move to is Maitland – they can they view the Liddel power station and mines from their office windows and get a reality check.

  11. Kaye Lee

    Perhaps the education department could move to the Cape York Peninsula to see first hand if the millions they have given to Noel Pearson for his Direct Instruction experiment have actually achieved anything.

    The Human Services Department could relocate to Ceduna and Kununurra so they could properly assess how well their cashless welfare card is going – oh and maybe provide some jobs for the locals?

  12. kerri

    As Kaye has pointed out, this ludicrous reimagining of geographic benefits in terms of givenment departments is madly misplaced. The people they do business with will cease to do business with them as it involves too much travel! Time and money. Also this will cost us yet more wasted public monies on a stupidly ideaologic and completely bereft of research concept. Once they figure it is not working everything will have to go back to where it came from. Another point. Canberra survives on having bureaucracies to service. This will hollow out Canberra and all those small businesses set to benefit from tax concessions will die. Throw in Malcolm’s utter crap NBN and yet again another monumental LNP clusterfluff that we will all pay for. I wonder hiw those recovering from cyclone Debbie feel about this relocation of people whose homes have not been destroyed?

  13. guest

    After careful consideration I have come to the firm opinion that these Coalition people have no idea about what to do about anything – except destroy Labor achievements or carry out IPA wishes (in reality, the same thing).

    Present implementation of policy seems to be much like shifting deckchairs on the Titanic, a ploy from back as far as Roman times to make it look like something is happening.

  14. Florence nee Fedup

    Barnaby spruiking decentralisation. Is he going back to Whitlam policy of developing new cities. If so, that could be good.

    Wren one looks at population maps of Sydney and Melbourne, one sees how high the density is, particularly Sydney.

    Maybe the answer is to discourage more people settling in these cities. Could this be real cause of rising housing costs.

    Answer could lie not in a train line for Adani but joining Sydney by fast train with country areas. Places like Goulburn, Hunter Valley and Orange. As well as inter state cities.

  15. Florence nee Fedup

    Govt should focus on moving offices from Sydney not Canberra.

  16. Zathras

    Barnaby seems to be generating a smokescreen to cover up for his recent fiasco of moving one Government department from Canberra to Armidale.

    Also for Barnaby I see from the new ABC article that he still owns that land near the Pilliga scrub that he said he was going to sell after accusations of insider information about fracking licences came to light.

  17. Kaye Lee

    Walter Merriman, the chair of industry marketing agency Australian Wool Innovations which administers the Australian Woolmark logo, said last month it was a very bad idea to move a body responsible for linking primary producers to the world’s fashionistas from The Rocks, Sydney, to rural Australia.

    “You just cannot promote yourself in a tin shed at Dubbo,” he said.

  18. Kaye Lee


    They have just announced they are starting on the inland freight rail with the government kicking off with $1 billion. I wonder how close it will go to Barnaby’s property?

    In 2006 and 2008, the Joyce’s bought two neighbouring properties totalling 2400 acres in the Pilliga. The locals couldn’t understand why because the land was no good for farming.

    A successful farmer and exporter from a nearby area said of the Joyce’s purchase ”This is scalded country. It could not support the number of animals that would be needed to make a return on investment,” he says. ”It is a strange buy, put it that way.”

    Rumours abounded.

    One was that the land would have to be bought back to build the inland railway, which is a long-term infrastructure policy of the National Party.

    People in glass houses

  19. Roswell

    May I state the bleedin’ obvious? They really haven’t thought this one through.

  20. Terry2


    As regards Noel Pearson’s Cape York Academy, the shining light is the school at Coen on Cape York which has between 30 and at best 50 enrollments, Prep to year 6 inclusive.

    Aurukun School in Cape York, closed in May last year after a series of violent episodes directed at teaching staff.
    The school was one of the Cape York Academy schools operating the Direct Instruction system under the stewardship of Noel Pearson – it has been taken back by the Queensland Department of Education, it was plagued with low attendance, poor behaviour and poor academic results.

    The Direct Instruction model has not been a raging success but, has, as Kaye has noted, has swallowed up millions in state and federal funding : I have been trying to find the annual financial accounts for the Cape York Academy but without success – not surprisingly perhaps. Pearson himself goes into a foul mouthed rage whenever any journalists ask any questions about what has been going on and where the money went.

  21. Kaye Lee

    Geeze Louise, Barnaby is popping up everywhere. He is also out talking about tougher citizenship tests. He really is sounding more like Pauline every day. They are going to make it tougher for people with links to organised crime to become citizens. They better start looking at their investment visas then.

    the Productivity Commission’s study of Australia’s migrant intake identified two classes of high-end business visa it says are effectively offering an easy shortcut to Australian residency for rich foreigners – most of whom are Chinese – and exposing Australia to the real risk of foreign money laundering.

  22. stephengb2014

    So full circle – I recall the decentralisation thought bubble when I arrived in 1978, by 1980 it changed to a call to centralise every government agency in Canberra.

    It took years to achieve centralising in Canberra, then there were those businesses that moved to Canberra and Sydney to get near the ‘action, (Lewis Powell 1971 memorandum)

    Talk about “clusterfluff”, this is just unbelievable!

    Well at least the Canberra civil servants will not be voting LNP.

  23. Michael Faulkner

    Australian governments, with the exceptions of Whitlam have consistently pursued policies that amount to nothing other than population and resources centralisation policies, certainly not decentralisation policies. Howard made this even worse by striving to make Sydney the de facto political capital of Australia between 1996 and 2007.

    Both Sydney and Melbourne ( almost 10 million combined, or 40 % of our population) are larger than all American cities, with the sole exception being New York, in a nation of 330 million. Via the confluence of varied national policies for the last couple of decades particularly, we now have the housing bubbles in both these cities, and increasingly a political disencentive of both major parties to offend the property owners in these two cities, and a disinclination to generously invest in infra-structure outside them.

    Consequence ‘ Sydney or the bush’ has become a self fulfilling aphorism, politically, economically, and socially.

    Meanwhile Melbourne’s population is galloping at such a pace compared with the rest of the state, such that if it continues, in another 15-20 years, there would be a case to re-name Victoria as Melbournia, as already our second most populated state is already a city-state.

    What we lack in this country are a number of medium sized cities of between 200 and 500 thousand to offset the overwhelming concentration of power in the Sydney-Melbourne nexus. The Coalition’s plan to hollow out Canberra needs to be seen in this context.

    And while Barnaby’s de-centralisation proposals are pork-barrelling in his own electorate, there is some merit in suggestions to re-locate some government agencies away from the large cities. But Malcolm stymied the value of so doing this, when he was Communications Minister, by insisting on a 4th rate NBN, and the failure of successive governments to provide leadership in fostering and funding a fast rail link between Sydney and Melbourne at the very least. This would have been a much better national investment than throwing $50 billion at new submarines, or another $50 billion at the wealthy private sector.

  24. Matters Not

    Barnaby is out and about with clarifications:

    Mr Joyce admitted the plan might not stand up to a cost-benefit analysis, but said Canberra wouldn’t exist if its establishment was basedly purely on a cost-benefit analysis.

    … He said the vast majority of government, such as the ATO, Treasury and Finance Department would remain in Canberra.

    … Mr Joyce said the Agriculture Department would also remain in Canberra.

    “I don’t think we will move the agriculture department. Let’s put this one to bed. We won’t move it out of Canberra,” he said

    Knows full well that a cost benefit analysis will be negative as it was with his original proposal. Doesn’t stop him.

    Wisely, he ‘s exempted the agricultural department. Can’t afford to have a full scale revolt on his ministerial hands. It would be a very bad look.

    I haven’t read of any enthusiastic response from his Liberal colleagues which is not surprising, Barnaby is driving this political bus with very few passengers.

  25. jimhaz

    Nash’s ex-chief of staff, the lobbyist fellow, must be now working for developers.

    I’ve been told (by someone who would certainly know) that the NSW libs are totally run by lobbyist plants.

  26. longwhitekid

    Fiona Nash is a VILE little creature. She couldn’t lie straight on a chaise while her lady in waiting is throwing gilded bonbons in her mouth.

  27. Florence nee Fedup

    It is Sydney that requires hollowing out, not Canberra. One of our few successful inland city.

  28. Zathras

    Kaye Lee,

    As I recall the Pilliga holdings were originally about potential fracking licences.

    At the time ex-Nats leader John Anderson plus some other ex-Nats cronies were heavily involved in gas exploration and it was claimed that – using insider information – Barnaby bought the land so he could later cash in on the gas that is believed to be under it.

    When it was revealed as a potential “conflict of interest” he clearly and publicly stated he would dispose of the properties.

    My point is that, considering that was almost 4 years ago I suspect he’s hoping it has all has been forgotten in the media so he can cash in at some future time.

  29. Linda47

    Frank Smith.

    You won’t see Liddell Power Station or any mines from any windows in Maitland… Liddell is between Singleton and Muswellbrook, and the mines start around Singleton, and stretch north.

  30. Kronomex

    In that case, move all the “irregular maritime arrivals” into housing all around Duke Duncehead Dutton the Disgusting’s place of residence.

  31. diannaart

    Roswell has summarised Kaye Lee’s most erudite article completely. Many thanks to you both.

  32. Frank Smith

    Ah Yes Linda. Muswellbrook would be a far more appropriate place to locate our Dept of Energy and Environment – right on the magnificent shores of Lake Liddell. But please don’t deny these poor people quick access to their Chards and CabSavs – they need to be housed closer to the Pokolbin vineyards after all the trauma of relocating from the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.

  33. Freethinker

    Looks like that the coalition is very worried about One Nation and country votes.
    This idea and the one mentioned regarding citizenship are to please Pauline now and later get the people that voted for One Nation to vote for the coalition.
    Just before the election lost of “sweets” will be given away to buy votes.

  34. Zathras

    The current citizenship phenomenon harks back to when John Howard tried to do the same thing years ago when his polls were slipping and not long after the Cronulla riots. I recall his attempt to add Donald Bradman into the list of questions.

    It was a time when “Australian Values” and “Mateship” were being spouted at every opportunity

    An independent committee then deemed it “flawed, intimidating and discriminatory” but it was later made even worse by Labor.
    It has been deliberately biassed against Humanitarian-based applicants in favour of ordinary immigrants.

    The whole thing sounds very Abbottesque and is more about highlighting differences between us than promoting some sort of national unity.

    Blow that Dog-Whistle louder Malcolm or arrange to have some kids thrown overboard!

  35. jamesss

    As time passes by people are realizing the corporation who is representing them doesn’t. Over time less and less will vote as there is no choice. Awakening to the value of community empowers and those who were seen to represent authority are disempowered. The disenchantment of the parties is a given as the game is played out.

  36. David Bruce

    HAHAHAHA! Perhaps they are worried that Canberra is now a target for North Korea.

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