This article was originally published in the Canberra Times on June 15, 2015. Author: Noel Towell.
State governments around Australia have begun circling as they try to poach hundreds of Australian Public Service jobs away from Canberra.
South Australia, West Australia, Tasmania and NSW have all approached Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce about moving agricultural research corporations, and the hundreds of public servants who work there, from the ACT to their state capitals or regional centres.
Mr Joyce’s office has confirmed the minister remains keen on the relocations despite criticism from within the agencies and from elsewhere in the agricultural sector.
But the minister’s office says each of the research and development corporations are being given the chance to make the case for why they should not be moved away from the capital.
The news comes as internal analysis from one of the agencies shows up to 500 research jobs outside the public service would be endangered by the disruption caused by just one of the unpopular moves.
Mr Joyce wants to relocate the Grains Research and Development Corporation to Wagga Wagga and the Australian Pesticides and the Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale or Toowoomba.
The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation would go to Albury-Wodonga under the minister’s plan and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation to Hobart.
Mr Joyce’s spokesman confirmed that the state governments had expressed interest in poaching the research agencies although the details of the “offers” were not available.
Meantime, internal analysis by the Grains Research and Development Corporation indicates a move to Wagga Wagga would be negative consequences way beyond the agency itself.
In addition to the loss of most of GDRC’s in-house expertise, with less than one-in-five staffers willing to move to the Riverina, hundreds of external research jobs would be jeopardised by the plan.
There are also internal worries about where the corporation would base itself in Wagga Wagga. With few suitable buildings currently available in the town a new office block would most likely have to be built, according to the internal analysis, adding to the estimated $31m cost of the move.
The Corporation signs more than 300 contracts each year with its research partners and insiders are worried that should a move disrupt one of its investment cycles, “there would be an expected flow-on [in the] employment of up to 500 research staff across Australia.”
In another development, the industry group Grains Producers Australia has asked Mr Joyce to consider a “hybrid” option for the future of the GDRC.
GPA chairman Andrew Weidemann suggested the research agency’s central administration could remain in Canberra but that service centres could be established around the country.
Mr Weidemann said an expensive and disruptive move for the GDRC was not in the interests of the antion’s grain farmers.
Technical union Professionals Australia remains deeply opposed to moving GRDC out of Canberra.
“Moving the GRDC not only comes at an upfront unjustifiable expense but it will come at a greater medium to long term cost with the disruption to the research program,” union official Dave Smith said.
“If the GRDC loses its senior, expert project and program managers then this will flow on to the capacity to run the program in an effective and responsible manner and new research will not be able to go forward.
“For every job that is moved from Canberra there could be up to 10 researchers that have their research put on hold.”