PROPONENTS of regional reform would move as many of our public institutions from Canberra and other capital cities to the bush as practicable.
A champion of the cause is deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
He got the ball rolling when he was Federal Agriculture Minister, moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority into his electorate at Armidale, New South Wales.
Many public sector workers and their influential union oppose him, arguing existing jobs should remain in their location, while only new jobs are shifted bushwards.
Decentralisation is a priority for the Nationals and the rural Research and Development Corporations (RDC) make a likely target.
To date just one RDC, AgriFutures, has moved its entire operation to a regional centre.
Other RDCs are either partially located in regional centres, or city-bound.
The five focus RDCs in this story run diverse operations, servicing disparate needs which is reflected in their office locations and business structures.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation has offices in Canberra, Perth, Adelaide and Toowoomba, Queensland, with a satellite office in Dubbo, New South Wales,
Australian Wool Innovation is run from Sydney.
MLA has offices in Sydney, Brisbane and Armidale, as well as eight international offices.
The Cotton Research and Development Corporation is based at Narrabri, NSW, and Hort Innovation has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
The AgriFutures move is a promising example.
Managing director John Harvey took AgriFutures from Canberra to Wagga Wagga, NSW.
He said running the RDC in the lower-cost environment would payback the $900,000 relocation cost in a year.
Regional Australia Institute chief executive Jack Archer told an ag policy conference late last year that decentralisation could redistribute public sector wages into regional economies.
He said more than 80 per cent of Australia’s workforce was located in its largest cities, where the public service spent four times more on wages than in the regions.
The Productivity Commission’s study Transitioning Regional Economies reported last month that relocation typically risked quality and cost performance.
“Public service decentralisation is generally a costly and ineffective way of promoting regional development,” the report said.