Australia’s wealthiest person wants to shift federal bureaucrats out of Canberra and base them in the bush and the country’s north.
Multibillionaire Gina Rinehart also warned that a “hatred” of entrepreneurs risked condemning Australians to “crippling taxes, debts and lower standards of living”.
In an article for Australian Resources and Investment magazine, to be published on March 1, iron-ore magnate Ms Rinehart laments politicians and the media’s failures to offer more support to mining businesses.
“Let’s convince our political parties and media that we need to encourage investment, cut government spending, approvals and permits, and lower taxes (except, I’d argue, for alcohol and cigarettes) … ”
China’s voracious demand for minerals, especially iron, has greatly enriched Mrs Rinehart, whose estimated wealth is now about $20 billion.
However, she warns against complacency, saying Australians are “not the only ones in this world with resources, and I believe the sooner we appreciate this and act accordingly, the better”.
She also wants politicians to explore how the nation can become “more decentralised”.
“We need our government departments and government advisers exposed to more of Australia: regions outside of Canberra and the NSW coast, where they usually holiday for their annual vacations …
“Why, for instance, does our Department of Aboriginal Affairs [sic] even need to reside in Canberra? Why not in a more central location such as Alice Springs, for instance?
“And why do we need our Defence Department in Canberra? What’s wrong with our Defence Department being stationed in our north?”
About two in five federal bureaucrats work in the ACT, including the vast majority of mid and senior-level officers.
Some government agencies have reportedly struggled to recruit in Canberra in recent years, saying larger cities offer higher quality candidates.
Mrs Rinehart is not the first to suggest that more public servants should work outside the ACT.
In 2009, the then head of the Community and Public Sector Union, Stephen Jones, suggested moving some agencies to regional towns with universities, to take advantage of the supply of young graduates.
Mr Jones, now a Labor MP, said the policy would disperse staff throughout the community, resulting in a bureaucracy that more closely reflected the community it served.
A farmers’ lobby group, the National Irrigators’ Council, backed Mrs Rinehart’s comments today.
Chief executive Tom Chesson said the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, which decides how to use the government’s water resources, had no staff outside Canberra.
“… the government should relocate it to the regions it operates in,” he said.
“Once a bureaucratic empire has been spawned in Canberra it is hard to relocate and just seems to get bigger and bigger and bigger, sucking up taxpayers’ dollars like they are going out of fashion.”
Mr Chesson also said many believed it was no coincidence that the ACT was “so well-looked after by the bureaucrats writing [the Murray Darling] Basin plan”.
By Markus Mannheim