Barnaby backs off rural relocation
Barnaby Joyce is avoiding turmoil this week by putting off his plans to move a federal department to regional Victoria.
The Deputy Prime Minister says he will not force the Canberra-based Murray-Darling Basin Authority out into the sticks until after the election.
He also appears to have postponed the massively criticised plan to move the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority into his own seat of New England.
The rural exile of government departments was roundly condemned by public sector unions, farm lobbies, the opposition and ACT politicians.
Mr Joyce announced mid-week that the relocations are on hold until after the election, and he would not give any details on long-term plans for the hundreds of staff affected.
“Let's take one fight at a time,” he said at a doorstop in northern Victoria.
“People know what we're up to, we're decentralising and that's what the National Party does.
“We believe that the largesse of government should be spread around the countryside and not stacked in a corner.”
Mr Joyce ordered a number of departments to prepare cost estimates for a relocation in 2014.
He was so keen to move the public sector to greener pastures that he announced the Armidale relocation before a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal had been completed.
Mr Joyce continues to insist that any move to Armidale would be voluntary, conceding that “there is some apprehensiveness” among workers.
“There always is... [but] we're not asking people to move to Kathmandu or Timbuktu.
“When they started moving departments to Canberra, Canberra wasn't there. Here we have a beautiful, vibrant, excited, cultivated and well-established city and also great for families.”
ACT Senator Zed Seselja said the relocation would uproot Canberra locals for minor political gain, and urged a reconsideration after the election.