The high cost of Canberra

05 Feb, 2017 02:00 AM
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FROM the very safe perspective of WA, it is not hard to be astounded by the reaction of those citizens of the United States who didn't like the decision of the American electors in the presidential election.

But equally, it is also interesting to note that, notwithstanding the criticism of president Donald Trump for many things, he had no hesitation in moving to the president's official residence and office in the White House, Washington DC.

Not so in Australia, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has refused to move from his Point Piper pad and take up residence in the official residences in Canberra and Sydney.

Apparently, his Point Piper home is more comfortable than anything the taxpayers of Australia could provide, plus, he prefers the view from Point Piper to that offered by the harbour-side mansion we have paid for.

An Australia Day article in the daily paper takes the Turnbull rejection of the PM's official housing to another level, reading into it an inference that our PM rejects many things "Canberra".

It compares the Turnbull approach to that of Menzies, who led the Liberal/Country Party coalition to a 23-year sojourn in government in the wake of the 1949 election.

As noted, Canberra came into being because of the on-going war between Sydney and Melbourne for primacy in the wake of federation in 1901.

In an effort to obtain agreement on turning a group of British colonies into one nation, it was written into the agreement that a new federal capital would be built "at least 100 miles (160 kilometres) from Sydney".

The author gives Menzies most of the credit for using the post World War II boom to turn Canberra from a large country town into a major city, moving most of the civil service departments to Canberra in the 1950s, although the High Court did not move there until 1980.

The Australian Capital Territory was proclaimed in 1911 and we should be grateful that many of the proposed names for the new capitol were rejected, including Olympus, Paradise, Captain Cook, Shakespeare, Kangaremu, Sydmeladperho and Eucalypta.

Although Menzies should be praised for helping Canberra achieve a critical mass, its growth has reached a stage where "government" is the major growth industry in the ACT.

An interesting aspect highlighted in the article is the use of official figures which reveal the cost/benefit analysis of the proposal by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to move the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale.

Officially, the move would "strip the ACT's economy of $157 million/year and cost 365 jobs", while Armidale would only get a "$77m boost and gain 189 jobs".

The article concentrated on the "net drain of economic activity", but if a government department can perform its task elsewhere and save $80m/year, then we should shift more of them.

More to the point, we should determine why a department can do its job in Armidale with 76 fewer workers and $80m less cost than leaving them in Canberra.

The list of people and organisations opposed to moving the APVMA include the National Farmers' Federation, not a surprising discovery, for if any organisation is paying a penalty for being wedded to Canberra, it is the NFF.

This is because the cost of working in Canberra is not the high rents and services, but because the view of Australia's business community is very distorted from this shrine to politicians and bureaucrats.

The Turnbull/Joyce recipe for less Canberra may be a good one.

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READER COMMENTS

Mike
9/02/2017 4:47:10 PM, on Farm Weekly

The APVMA had 198 full/part time staff on 30 June, 2016. Peter, you note that the Joyce plan involves losing almost 40% of these. Location aside, any thoughts on how they'll do this and improve their current performance in the areas of agchem registration?
Paul
11/02/2017 11:19:10 AM, on Farm Weekly

APVMA is funded by levies on ag chemicals and vet medicines. Money spent on capital costs and relocation costs incurred moving to Barnaby's electorate is money that can't be spent on approving and reviewing products, hence less spending on staff when they do get to armidale. Not a good result for farmers who are paying for it everytime they pick up a drum of chemical. His pork barrelling is coming straight out of our pockets.

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