CANBERRA – PARLIAMENT HOUSE
MONDAY, 01 MAY 2017
SUBJECTS: Decentralisation and the budget
STEPHEN JONES: For the last three months, the National Party has been running around the country talking about decentralisation. It’s only 7 days until the budget, and if this is going to turn into anything other than “beer” talk, then there’s two things that the Government has to do.
The first is that they’ve got to immediately announce a moratorium on job cuts – Government job cuts – in regional Australia. And the second thing they’ve got to do is put some real money in the budget to pay for decentralisation.
Let’s talk about the moratorium. Since the Government came to power, they have been consistently, year after year, cutting jobs out of regional Australia. Two hundred jobs quite recently in the tax office in Townsville; the Australian Valuation Office, over 500 jobs have gone from Centrelink, and I can tell you, those regional offices were not spared in the process.
So if the Government wants to do anything more than handpick a few jobs out of Canberra, and move them to a regional town, at the same time as they’re sacking people in Government jobs in those regional towns, they have to immediately call a moratorium on axing public sector jobs in regional Australia.
Let me talk about money in the budget. We already know the Government’s ill-fated plan to move the APVMA to Barnaby Joyce’s own electorate has cost the tax payers $60 million. Well if we’re going to scale this plan up, it’s going to cost a lot more. And let’s not forget, a few dozen jobs, moving from Canberra to Armidale cost $60 million dollars. If they’re going to scale this up, then there needs to be money in the budget.
So it’s time for the National Party to come clean. If this is going to be anything more than pub talk, there’s got to be a moratorium on job cuts, and there’s got to be money in the budget.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Decentralisation has been shown to be really expensive, ineffective, and often reversed by the incoming Government. Is Labor going to pursue decentralisation, what do you think going forward – the National Party wants to departments to justify their presence in Canberra – what’s your response that?
JONES: Labor is committed to creating jobs in regional Australia. Could you imagine what you could have done with that $60 million, if instead of trying to move a reluctant agency out of Canberra into regional Australia, and not create one job?
Can you imagine what you could have done with that $60 million in my town? It would have gone a long way to job creation projects, and much needed infrastructure, in a place like mine. There are a lot of regional towns throughout Australia who would have stuck their hand up for that sort of money for job creation projects as well.
JOURNALIST: What sort of money would you like to see in the Federal budget for backing this decentralisation policy?
JONES: I want to see a real policy, and not just pub talk. There’s got to be two things – because the decentralisation policy means absolutely nothing unless you’re going to call a halt on sacking public servants in regional Australia today. And that’s already happening. We have seen the Government, on its watch, sack thousands of workers throughout regional Australia. We’ve seen entire campuses of the CSIRO close down. We’ve seen, 200 jobs in Townsville – in fact, we’ve seen job cuts in the tax office, up and down the east coast of Australia, in regional towns.
So if we’re going to do anything than move one set of jobs to regional Australia at the same time as we’re madly sacking public servants in those towns – you’ve got to call a stop to regional job cuts.
JOURNALIST: That $60 million for moving the APVMA – would you like to see that in the budget, because at the moment we’ve only see a $26 million figure and that $60 is speculation as far as I’m concerned.
JONES: The Government has to account decentralisation policy. The $60 million which is the cost of the APVMA move has to be in the budget, as well as, any additional money this will cost if they scale this plan up. And the Deputy Leader of the Nationals, Fiona Nash, has made it quite clear, that she wants a report in August from every Government agency. How much is it going to cost? That money has to be in the budget, if it’s going to be anything more than pub talk.
JOURNALIST: Stephen, can I just ask about the higher education changes that Labor are anticipating this week. What would it mean for university funding, for Wollongong, if it is cut?
JONES: We know that regional Universities are already under stress. The existing cuts to universities’ funding have seen an increase in student numbers, and a decrease in funding to those universities. What it means to Universities in a town like mine, it means to a University in Wollongong: bigger class sizes, and real pressure on the university to maintain its quality. If there are more cuts, it means more expenses for the students, and a lesser quality of education for the university.
JOURNALIST: What about students having to pay back their HECS? (Inaudible)
JONES: Look, I want to see the detail of what the Government is proposing, but from what I have seen, in the reports today, is bad news for universities, particularly in universities in towns like mine, which are already under pressure through Government funding cuts.
JOURNALIST: Do you support the decentralisation agencies like the Murry Darling Basin Authority in Canberra?
JONES: I’m very happy to see the creation on public sector jobs in regional Australia, and where it makes sense, and where there is an agreement, and where it is going to make economic and financial sense to have those agencies move to regional towns. But it’s got to be a better proposal than the one that Barnaby Joyce put up last time around - $60 million and you haven’t created one new job.
JOURNALIST: What about Barnaby excuse in terms of ignoring the findings of a cost benefit analysis, and saying that it’s a nation building exercise, and visionary to simply forge ahead with moves like the APVMA given they’ve got this broad brush policy now looking at all Government agencies.
JONES: If $60 million spent, without creating one new job is visionary, god help us.
JOURNALIST: Is that the standard Labor would use if you win the next election when it comes to moving departments. Not creating new jobs in regional areas, but moving people from Canberra to the regions – it’s got to make economic sense is the only reason you’d consider it?
JONES: We have been willing to look at placing jobs in new agencies in regional areas in the past. When we created the National Disability Insurance agency, we placed that in Adelaide, because Adelaide at the time was going through an economic downturn. They had the skills; it was a new agency they had to staff up – it made sense placing that agency outside of Canberra. We’ll take it on a case by case basis.
I’ve got to say, if you make jobs in Canberra the enemy of jobs in regional Australia, you’re not starting on the right foot.