Federal public servants are not keen on the Tax Office’s NSW central coast sabbatical deal.

Just 129 people from the 19,000-strong staff have put their hands up to move to the regional city of Gosford, raising concerns of forced relocations for up to 400 tax officials.

The Coalition Government has again been forced to defend its push for hundreds of Canberra-based public servants to move to rural and regional Australia, seen by many as an awkward bit of pork-barrelling for rural centres in the 2013 election.

“The Expression of Interest for transfer at level to the Gosford site has now closed, with a total of 129 applications received,” a newsletter sent to staff this week said, according to Fairfax.

“The assessment of applications has commenced and candidates will be notified of decisions by mid-March. 

“The Gosford site is on track for the scheduled opening in November 2017.”

The ATO Gosford project is separate to the forced relocation that the Nationals want for their federal Agriculture portfolio.

The Nationals want the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation to move to Wagga Wagga, while the Grains Research and Development Corporation is going Toowoomba, Dubbo, Northam and Adelaide.

The Fisheries Research and Development Centre will have its offices in Adelaide, while the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Agency is being forced to move to Armidale.

Nationals Deputy Leader Fiona Nash says the much-maligned policy is here to stay. 

“We are a Government that wants to invest in those communities and to invest in their futures,” Ms Nash said.

“We want those communities to have good jobs, high paying jobs and have better access to services. Part of our commitment to growing jobs outside of our major capital cities is to look at opportunities to decentralise Government agencies to rural and regional areas.

“We never apologise for taking decisions that are going to provide a sustain future for regional communities, to provide more jobs – and part of that is looking to decentralise to get those public sectors jobs out into the regions where they deserve that investment because it is regional Australia that drive this country.”