Article – Regional Australia department abandons the regions

12 May 2015
Noel Towell
Canberra Times

The government department for developing country Australia is to shut its regional offices around the nation and administer its programs from its Canberra headquarters.

Public servants at the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development were told on Monday that cuts to grants programs and the scrapping of the National Disaster Recovery Taskforce meant a retreat from the regions was on the cards.

Offices in Hobart, Wollongong, Bendigo, Newcastle and Orange are set to be shuttered by January 2016 with the department’s presence in Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide looking shaky.

Only the department’s Townsville site is safe, being spared to administer the Abbott Government’s agenda for northern Australia.
The public servants staffing the regional and state divisional offices face an uncertain future with departmental bosses simply saying there would be a “significant impact” on their working lives.

The department’s 1200 staff were told in an email on Monday that changes to the Regional Development Australia program would  “significantly streamline the level of program administration.”

“We are looking at various options to position the Division to respond to these changes including the future viability of our regional and state-based operations,” the message read.

“The work of the regional offices has been declining for some time and the changes to the RDA program and the conclusion of the National Disaster Recovery Taskforce will inevitably accelerate this reduction in operations.

“In addition, most offices have either reached the end of their property lease or will do so over the coming months requiring us to make decisions now on their future role.”

The Disaster Recovery Taskforce was initially set up in 2011 to help deal with the aftermath of the Queensland floods and also played a role in the recovery from Victoria’s catastrophic Black Saturday bushfires.

The expected takeover of Norfolk Island’s local democracy by the department’s Canberra-based bureaucrats is not expected to make up for the shortfall in work caused by the decline in the regional programs, according to the message to staff.

“If we took this approach, the Hobart, Wollongong and Bendigo offices would close by 30 June 2015 and the Newcastle and Orange offices would close by 31 January 2016,” the massage states.

“The Townsville office will remain open and focus its work to support the Government’s Northern Australia development initiative.

“Clearly, if we took this approach there would be a significant impact on a number of divisional staff – particularly those currently located in the regional and state divisional offices – and we would need to work through a range of staffing issues.”

Courtesy of the Canberra Times

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