Promote public servants faster outside Canberra: Townsville decentralisation plan

Public servants who volunteer to work outside Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne could be promoted faster and be eligible for more senior jobs as part of an ambitious plan from north Queensland’s unofficial capital.

Townsville is the latest city bidding to be part of forced relocations of some of Canberra’s biggest departments and agencies, proposing special graduate recruitment programs and faster career progression for federal government employees working in regional .

Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill. Photo: Michael Chambers

The local council has put its hand up to host any of nine departments and agencies as part of the Turnbull government’s decentralisation plans, including Defence, Education and Training, Veterans’ Affairs, Infrastructure and Regional Development and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Relocating public service jobs would boost the city’s economy, help lower its 9.6 per cent unemployment rate and begin to arrest the “brain drain” from regional cities, caused by young people and university graduates moving to capitals for jobs and lifestyle benefits.

Unemployment for young people in Townsville is approaching 20 per cent.

“A program of federal government decentralisation would demonstrate that ‘s regional centres are attractive and functional places for individuals and families to live and work, offering significant lifestyle advantages,” Townsville City Council’s Jame Ruprai told federal Parliament.

“These include a cost of living that is considerably lower than in ‘s major capital cities.”

“Townsville presently houses ample land and sites to facilitate APS relocation and nurture decentralisation efforts. Locating greater federal functions in regional centres would inform decision-making by strengthening awareness of unique local conditions and circumstances.”

The proposal says faster promotion and pay rises for public servants who volunteer to work in the regions as well as priority intakes in graduate programs would benefit government and the public.

Townsville joins a growing list of cities and towns bidding for forced government relocations, being overseen by the National Party.

On Monday, the City of Greater Geelong called for the federal government’s workplace insurer Comcare to be relocated to Victoria’s second biggest city.

Advocates for the Geelong plan will meet with MPs in Canberra on Wednesday.

A group of mayors and councils from the South n cities of Port Augusta, Whyalla and Port Pirie told a parliamentary inquiry considering the decentralisation plans the federal government makes too many policy decisions through a “city lens”.

“Put simply, government is losing touch with the impact of their decisions on country communities and is perpetuating a lack of confidence in regional areas,” Port Augusta Mayor Sam Johnson said.

Members of the Spencer Gulf Cities group group called for co-location of staff from federals agencies including the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Infrastructure and Regional Development and Education and Training, along with South n state officials in the upper Spencer Gulf region.

“It would enable key information and opportunities of the region to be identified and relayed back to Adelaide and Canberra-based agencies and would also spread out the benefits of these agencies beyond metropolitan areas and provide highly skilled jobs to the region.”

Business cases for government-wide decentralisation moves are expected by the end of 2017 and forced moves will be considered as part of next year’s federal budget.

About 57,500 public servants, or 37.5 per cent of the federal bureaucracy, work in Canberra, a figure which is in steady decline.

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