Barnaby Joyce’s plans to move the Australian Pesticides and Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale is reminiscent of another idea that is closer to home for many of us.
Remember when the Kirner Government wanted to move the Victorian Department of Agriculture to Bendigo?
Agriculture Minister Barry Rowe announced the idea in 1989 and started a bidding war between a number of rural cities including Bendigo, Ballarat, the Latrobe Valley and Geelong. Typically, Shepparton didn’t get much of a look-in.
Ultimately, the decision was made to actually move the head office to Bendigo. They commissioned a property developer and even occupied a rented building and began the move.
But Mr Rowe lost his cabinet job, an election intervened and when the Kennett Government took power, it canned the idea.
There are a few similarities with what Mr Joyce is proposing.
Mr Joyce is apparently sitting on a report which found there were a number of reasons not to move the pest authority to his electorate.
A Victorian Department of Agriculture employee remembered a similar report in this way:
‘‘(The) report which recommended relocation to Bendigo included an economic analysis that showed the relocation to any country location would result in net costs to the community. In other words, it made no sense to relocate head office. This fact was used by Professor Alan Lloyd and the VFF to explain the costs involved and the loss of influence the sector would have in Spring St.’’
The resistance from the Canberra employees to moving to the country is nothing new.
Apparently in Victoria, the department had trouble cajoling staff to move to Bendigo, and many opted to take the drive up the Calder from Melbourne rather than move house.
And in the APVMA?
A staff survey in mid-2015 found about 110 people would not uproot their lives to go to Armidale, in Mr Joyce’s northern NSW electorate.
Good luck with this one, Barnaby.
—Geoff Adams, Country News Editor