mcj 8th Sep. 2013 Independent candidate for the seat of Indi, Cathy McGowan will have quite a wait before she knows if she has unseated Liberal party incumbent Sofie Mirabella. in the meantime she is ecstatic with the response of her electors.The Age/News, Picture Michael Clayton-Jones, Wangaratta Photo: Michael Clayton-JonesHigh-profile independent MP Cathy McGowan says the Turnbull government is disrespecting its own public servants with plans to move departments to regional Australia, warning decentralisation will fail without proper planning and consultation.
The regional Victorian MP accused the National Party of making policy on the run with the push, announced last week by deputy leader Fiona Nash and requiring departments and agencies to justify their continued presence in Canberra or face moves to regional cities.
She will push for a parliamentary inquiry into the plan next month.
Ms McGowan, who defeated Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella to win the seat of Indi in 2013, said she was a strong supporter of decentralisation of government and wanted future moves to follow the success of the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation in the 1970s and 1980s.
But she warned proper processes were needed before public service jobs could be moved. Ms McGowan said decentralisation plans should be coordinated with the government’s Smart Cities policy, and with a broader national policy for regional Australia.
“I’ve read about the enormous problems the public service is having in Canberra because they haven’t been involved in this discussion so far,” Ms McGowan said.
“The government hasn’t engaged the main players even in the process, let alone rural communities.
“I’m very critical of that – doing stuff without consulting people.”
She called for normal policy development processes to be followed, including with government green and white papers and input from local communities.
“The lack of respect is being illustrated. It seems to me that even in this particular instance, one part of the government isn’t talking to the other part,” Ms McGowan said.
“You really want to invest in a process up front, that leaves you with a long-term, bipartisan and very effective end result,” she said.
Implementation shouldn’t follow the National Broadband Network roll out, Ms McGowan warned, saying slow internet speeds and poor communications coverage meant many regional communities couldn’t host government agencies or departments.
“The government’s doing all this as well without a policy for rural and regional Australia. The whole thing is fraught if you can’t say how decentralisation fits in,” she said.
Regional Development Australia ACT executive director Liz Veitch said Senator Nash’s definition of regional areas did not align with government regional development policy.
“This must mean a huge hit to the Canberra economy, and this doesn’t seem to have been recognised by federal politicians. Rather, Senator Nash quotes a report suggesting that public servants ‘only view the world through a prism of statistics’, [and] are not of the real world,” she said.
“Canberra has long been fighting a historical misconception that it is a dull city, and the federal politicians’ misconception that Canberra only exists to serve the federal Parliament.”
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce ruled out moving entire departments from Canberra, leaving public servants facing the risk of being split off in individual agencies and divisions.
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