Armidale may have an unexpected new rival to its claim on hosting the national pesticides authority.
Southern Downs Regional Council, based 150km inland from Brisbane, is on the hard sell for the n Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority in a Senate inquiry into its forced move from Canberra.
The small farming community, home to about 36,000 people, joined 16 other regional councils and bodies from across the country using the Senate inquiry to pitch for government departments.
It marks a transformation for the inquiry, originally intended to focus on the APVMA’s move and risks to human and animal health, the profitability to the agriculture and fisheries sectors, chemical industries and ‘s trading reputation.
The driving force behind the APVMA’s relocation, Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, last month encouraged regional communities to write to the Senate committee about the benefits of decentralisation, drawing accusations he was derailing the inquiry.
As regions pitched for federal agencies, the inquiry learnt Southern Downs had its eye on several including Meat and Livestock , and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.
It wants to lure them with its ‘crisp country air’, shopping complexes and lack of rush hour traffic.
“There have been many examples of successful relocation with regional cities such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong all attracting a plethora of different public authorities through various decentralisation programs,” Mayor Tracy Dobie said.
The council pledged to “actively campaign” for an agency in one of its centres, Warwick (population 15,000) or Stanthorpe (5,000).
And it offered something appealing to APVMA bosses tired of working in McDonald’s at Armidale, boasting of “available office space or zone commercial land that can accommodate an agency.”
“The Southern Downs Regional Council will facilitate the logistics of any move to ensure an agency that moves to the region is able to perform its function seamlessly.”
Albury City Council made a pitch for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, while Mid-Murray Council, outside Adelaide, included the Education, Industry and Employment departments in a long list of large government agencies that could move to regional areas.
The council joined others inviting the Senate inquiry to hold a hearing at regional areas.
Lockhart Shire Council, in southern NSW, urged the government to look further afield than major centres such as Albury and Wagga Wagga in relocating departments.
“Smaller sub-regional towns should not be overlooked when considering the decentralisation of government agencies,” mayor Rodger Schirmer said.
“Other smaller towns could and should be considered in respect of relocating individual business units, shared service centres, outreach posts and other government services that can be provided remotely.”
Lachlan Shire Council, centred in Condobolin, said it would benefit from the relocation of people to nearby centres Dubbo, Orange and Griffith.
“This improves medical, social and educational services that residents can travel to and to take advantage of these improved services,” general manager Robert Hunt said.
“Lachlan Shire would support a federal government department relocation to its area but reality is that a research office from agriculture or chemical testing would be of greater benefit.”
In a submission, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr condemned the forced move as “a misguided exercise in public governance that has failed to achieve the desired public policy goals for the APVMA or Armidale.”
It is a signature policy of Mr Joyce, whose New England electorate includes Armidale.
The plan has been labelled as “blatant pork barrelling” by the opposition.