"There's a value in having a national public service" - ABC Canberra Breakfast transcript





SUBJECTS: Decentralisation; Adani mine; jobs in the renewables sector.

ADAM SHIRLEY, PRESENTER: When a number of jobs get shipped out of the ACT for a questionable benefit, ACT residents get a little frustrated. So it has been with the Federal Government's forced relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. A controversial move that is currently the subject of a Senate inquiry. But the inquiry has shown it is not just the government that is keen to move Canberrans on. A number of Labor MPs are after some relocation action for their electorates.

Andrew Leigh is Labor's Assistant Treasury Spokesman and Member for Fenner. Dr Leigh, good morning to you on Breakfast.


SHIRLEY: Not too bad. Have you spoken to many Labor colleagues who are keen to get Canberra public servants into their electorates?

LEIGH: Certainly none of my caucus colleagues have come up to me and said that they're keen to take policy-making roles out. Clearly there's a range of local councils – whether they be in Coalition or Labor-held areas - that have made bids under Barnaby Joyce's whacky inquiry. That's to be expected.

SHIRLEY: Would it follow they're whacky bids, Andrew Leigh, from some of your Labor colleagues?

LEIGH: Let's be clear, Adam. You're eliding gently between councils and my Labor colleagues. What's been called for is submissions – which have come from local councils. In some cases they're in Labor areas, in some cases in Coalition areas. But so far as I'm aware, none of my Labor caucus colleagues have put in submissions to Barnaby Joyce's inquiry. They recognise, as I do, that there's a value in having a national public service. Already, the nation's capital only houses 39 per cent of our public servants. Most of the federal public service already works outside Canberra, doing things like Centrelink, Customs, Medicare. There's a range of services being delivered across the country. But the policy-making role should stay in the nation's capital. And that ought to be a bipartisan view. 

SHIRLEY: One of your colleagues – Labor agricultural spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon – says that relocation and moving things into regions is a good thing if it doesn't impact an agency's ability to do its work in a bad way. So he is saying that this, in theory, is a good thing should the circumstances permit. How disappointed are you in that?

LEIGH: Joel has been one of the strongest fighters against Barnaby Joyce's plan to rip the Pesticides Authority out of Canberra. He's been pointing out, very clearly, that it's a move that's going to cost the taxpayer more. Indeed the evidence to the Senate inquiry yesterday suggested that it could take up to five years in order to re-skill the Pesticides Authority. They've been working out of McDonald's in Armidale because they don't have office space there-

SHIRLEY: That's a colloquial story that has been disputed actually in the inquiry, Dr Leigh.

LEIGH: Well, certainly there was evidence coming forward in a range of different inquires that there were public servants working out of McDonalds. And what hasn't been disputed is that this is going to cost the taxpayer more. The taxpayer is going to be worse off as a result of Barnaby Joyce's desire to pork barrel, and pork barrel pretty selectively. Let's be honest, this is really about him getting people into his local area, even if it comes at the cost of Australia's veterinary medicine's scrutiny system.

SHIRLEY: Isn't it hard though for you to launch these sorts of criticisms when Labor-controlled areas are also putting in a pitch to move Canberrans into a different part of Australia?

LEIGH: Not at all, Adam. And I think, frankly, it's a long bow to say, "Well there's some councils over here-"

SHIRLEY: How's it a long bow? There's a direct link there as to the same thing that the government is trying to do.

LEIGH: Hang on, Adam. Effectively what this is saying is that a council in an area where the federal representative is Labor has made a bid for jobs. It's a long bow to jump from that to saying, "Oh, you're running up against all your Labor colleagues."

SHIRLEY: I'm not saying that, but surely the local member would be well aware of the council's intentions and clearly is not speaking out against those council intentions.

LEIGH: Adam, my Labor colleagues are united in recognising a strong role for Canberra, for our nation's capital. And that's not something you get in the other party room. Back in the days of Menzies, there was a recognition that a strong Canberra wasn't just good for our city, but was critical to quality policy-making. If you want to break down these silos, you want departmental offices to work together with one another, then physical proximity matters. It's why great centres of innovations such as Silicon Valley aren't spread out all over the place. They're actually located in a single area, because that allows you to do better collaboration. I strike a strong recognition of that issue every time I talk to my Labor caucus colleagues. They recognise, as I do, that it is nuts to have 34,000 empty desks sitting around federal offices, and yet be putting in bids in order to pork barrel jobs elsewhere. Sure, service delivery ought to be close to the people, but the policy-making role ought to reside in the nation's capital. Grown-up countries are not having this conversation. If you look in London, or Tokyo, or Ottawa, they're recognising the value of having a strong national capital. They're getting on and dealing with challenges such as climate change and economic growth, rather than these old-fashioned arguments that Barnaby Joyce keeps having. 

SHIRLEY: In light of some of these bids by councils where a Labor member is sitting, will you be raising this issue within the Labor caucus to get some more answers?

LEIGH: I talk constantly with my Labor colleagues about the value of Canberra and the importance of centralisation. But the push for this is not coming from my Labor colleagues. The push for this is coming from Barnaby Joyce, and I have been very strongly arguing – as has Joel Fitzgibbon, as have a range of other caucus colleagues, Gai Brodtmann, Katy Gallagher of course – that pork barrelling jobs to the regions is bad for Canberra and bad for the nation. It costs more yet delivers worse public services. It's not the way in which you want to run a good government. Because great government requires collaboration and engagement in the national capital, rather than simply thinking that if you take jobs out of Canberra and send them to the region, the jobs can be done just as effectively there. 

SHIRLEY: Briefly on another matter – treasury-related I might say too, Dr Leigh-

LEIGH: Sure.

SHIRLEY: On the Carmichael mine, why is Labor now stepping away from supporting that project?

LEIGH: We've always said that this project has to stack up environmentally and economically. But we don't believe that there's a strong case for taking a fifth of the money out of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and spending it on a rail line which will just benefit a private coal developer. We believe that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility was set-up to diversify the economic base of the North.

SHIRLEY: Is that the sticking point? That the diversity fund is potentially going to be used to fund this? 

LEIGH: That's certainly been one of the issues that's been coming up. The suggestion that you take a $1 billion, to give it to a coal billionaire, in order to build a private rail road. We don't think that stacks up economically. We don't believe that's a good use of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility money which, as I've said, is designed to diversify the economic base of the north and to be spent on projects that have a public good, rather than going directly to a private developer. 

SHIRLEY: In the absence of the opposition putting forward clear evidence as to how the renewable energy sector can generate tens of thousands of jobs, are you effectively blocking further Australian jobs by blocking support for the Carmichael mine?

LEIGH: I'm bemused by the first bit of your question. You're saying that there's not evidence that renewables create jobs? 

SHIRLEY: What is the case you've laid out for the direct places where it will happen in absence of funding something like the Carmichael mine? That's my question.

LEIGH: We see it in our own electorate. You go up to the Canberra Institute of Technology in Bruce and there's the Sustainable Skills Training Hub which is training people for green jobs installing solar panels and wind farms, and other renewable technologies. You go to the solar farm off the Majura Parkway, and of course the wind-farms that you can see as you come into Canberra. More than half of all new electricity generation around the world has been in renewables over the course of the past decade. So they’re not only cheaper, they don't just reduce our total emissions, but they create great jobs in the process. In fact, the other day I was looking at the number one projected job in the United States labour market right now – it's wind turbine technicians. So there's going to be good jobs flowing from renewables in the future. That's why Labor's committed to sourcing half our electricity from renewables by 2030.

SHIRLEY: Dr Leigh, always appreciate the time. Thank you.

LEIGH: Thank you, Adam.




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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.