Call to move DAFWA to Northam

29 May, 2014 02:00 AM
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The way I see it is it's shifting a part of government that should be in the country to the country.

LIBERAL MP Ian Blayney is pushing the State Government to relocate the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) to Northam.

In an address to Parliament last week, Mr Blayney suggested the State Government sell DAFWA's city-based headquarters, using the proceeds to move most of its functions to Northam.

Mr Blayney, who represents the Geraldton electorate, said an industry that takes place in the country should be run in the country.

The DAFWA head office in South Perth hosts agencies such as Intergrain and the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre.

The call is the latest in a long line of proposals for the DAFWA headquarters.

In 2011 it was decided that a proposal to move DAFWA to a new facility at Murdoch University would be axed, with then Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman announcing that, instead, the South Perth facility would be given a $235 million facelift.

Mr Redman said at the time South Perth would be the best site for the new facility and the upgrade would entail a complete demolition of the old DAFWA building.

But plans for a new DAFWA headquarters was put on hold after the release of the 2014 State Budget when no funding was included in forward estimates.

Mr Blayney said Northam already had the beginnings of a centre of agricultural research and education.

"It's close enough to Perth not to be isolated but it is out in the country so it has cost benefits," Mr Blayney said.

"The way I see it is it's shifting a part of government that should be in the country back to the country."

Mr Blayney said if the DAFWA headquarters were moved to Northam, agriculture could be managed in a similar fashion to New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, which is based in Orange.

"If they can do it in other States we should be able to do it here," Mr Blayney said.

"If we're serious about decentralisation, we have to do it, we can't just talk about it, and Northam is well located to the rest of the State."

Mr Blayney said agriculture was an industry where workers frequently expected, or even preferred, to be placed in rural areas.

He recommended those DAFWA functions that needed to remain in the metropolitan area be relocated to Midland.

"The value of the South Perth site would be enough to build good facilities in Northam," he said.

"Country people regularly have services moved out of their areas and are told with all this new technology they will be serviced just as well from the city.

"Well surely that works the other way round as well.

"With all this new technology we could actually start to look at shifting services back into the country.

"It doesn't have to be a one way street."

WAFarmers president Dale Park said he supported the relocation of DAFWA headquarters to Northam as long as the profits from the sale of the South Perth site were reinvested in agriculture.

"You don't have to look very far back to when we had a Midland saleyard, the agricultural industry didn't actually get all the money that came out of the sale of that," Mr Park said.

He said while decentralisation was an absolute must for rural WA, it was important to provide the correct facilities to attract quality staff to rural areas.

"Rural WA is unique in the world, there is nowhere else like it where so few people live in such a big area that produces such a big income, yet we still struggle to get people to live out there," he said.

"In principle we are in favour of decentralisation because it is the bane of WA's existence because everyone lives on the coast these days, but there would be the proviso that you might have to pay people more to be out there or have some other form of compensation.

"You have to make Northam and other places attractive for people to go there."

Mr Park said a potential move could increase the department's direct contact with farmers.

"The benefit could come from the other side where the department will be closer to agriculture," he said.

York grower Peter Keeble supported a potential relocation of head office to Northam, but didn't think it mattered whether the department was located in Northam or Perth.

"I think any move to get some more people out into the country is a good thing," Mr Keeble said.

"Whether that is going to be an advantage for us, I don't know.

"Farmers all have private agronomists now and we don't use the department like we used to."

Toodyay farmer Frank Panizza supported relocating the DAFWA head office but not necessarily to Northam.

"I suppose it is a little bit difficult having such a large amount of property in such a central location in Perth tied up with agricultural issues," he said.

"It should have been moved out to Byford or the outer metro area.

"It's always harder to get staff out into the country, so I am not necessarily supportive of it being relocated to Northam, but I can see the sense in shifting out of South Perth and moving to an area that is in the outer suburbs.

"If South Perth was sold it would be worth many millions of dollars. That money could probably be better used."

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READER COMMENTS

Country Boy
29/05/2014 8:31:45 AM, on Farm Weekly

sounds like a sensible move, a agriculture department shouldn't be based in the center of the city. Move it to outer city or within 100Ks of the city, and then sell of that prime real estate to pay for it and will still have change left over.

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