Over the past few weeks Barnaby Joyce has been ramping up his decentralisation rhetoric.
But we haven’t seen any real meat on the bones of his thought bubble to move Government Departments out of Canberra, except for the pork barrel to his own electorate.
What is sad is that, if the truth be told, the Deputy Prime Minister’s main objective is to derail the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee which will investigate the policy order that gave effect to the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to Armidale in the Minister’s own electorate.
The use of the policy order by the Turnbull Government to relocate the APVMA to the Deputy Prime Minister’s own electorate is extraordinary, as this policy order has never been used in the past.
This policy order only targets the APVMA with the Senate Inquiry set to specifically investigate how the relocation will affect the ability of the Authority to perform its functions.
Terms of reference:
ii. the ability of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to perform its functions from its new location, and any consequent risks to:
A. human and animal health;
B. productivity and profitability to the agriculture and fisheries sectors;
C. chemical industries; and
D. Australia’s trading reputation;
Therefore, if Barnaby Joyce is keen to have an inquiry into the broader issues of decentralisation, then he should call for a separate inquiry or better yet, formulate a policy position for proper consultation and discussion. At present Barnaby Joyce is misleading rural and regional communities that the current Senate Inquiry into the specific policy order is about broad ranging decentralisation issues.
Last week at Senate Estimates we learned there are a number of problems with the policy order and hidden costs associated with the relocation of the APVMA to the Minister’s electorate.
Evidence provided by Ms Arthy, CEO of the APVMA shows that both the Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann know that more money will be needed than the allocated $25 million to give the relocation of APVMA any chance of working. Without the rebuilt IT system the APVMA will not be able to function. Taxpayers need to know how much this relocation will actually cost and where and when the additional funding will be provided to the APVMA.
Ms Arthy: It is my responsibility in terms of the day-to-day management and operation of the agency. The issue around doing the remote working is that it relies on our IT systems being completely rebuilt. It is that element where I need to get the signoff from government to be able to get the money to just redo our IT systems. That element needs to be signed off by government.
Senator CAROL BROWN: So, it goes to the department and is it signed off by the Minister?
Ms Arthy: I believe it is to be signed off between the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Finance, but I may have to check with the department about the actual decision. I am pretty sure that is right.
Estimates also revealed a new building will need to be built, but it is unclear what the cost of this building will be. What we know is the APVMA won’t own the building but will lease it back.
Ms Arthy: That is correct. It is $25.6 million. The plan is that it is going to be a lease back arrangement. We will not be building the building in terms of paying full capital. So, what is in that $25.6 million is a provision for lease.
We also found out that most likely there will be a period of time of double rent payment and that the Department’s preliminary work has found that Armidale might be only a fraction cheaper in rent.
Mr Thompson: We did a bit of work on this last year in a preliminary way. There are a number of ways of doing this, as Ms Arthy said. There is a cost of renting here. There is a cost of renting in Armidale and there could be a period of time where rent is being charged on both buildings, but that depends on the timing. There are a number of ways in which the Commonwealth acquires rental space. I think that the work that the department did last year in conjunction with APVMA identified no suitable building in Armidale for the full move. As Ms Arthy said, it looks like a new building. New buildings can be done by the Commonwealth building the building and putting up the capital or it can put out an offer and the private sector provides the capital and then that is recovered via a lease payment. We cannot tell the exact amount of the lease payment yet, because that is some of the work to go ahead.
A little bit of preliminary work which may be around has looked at the relevant differences in lease costs between Armidale and Canberra. I think Armidale might be a fraction cheaper, but it is hard to tell at this stage.
The Senate Inquiry will seek answers to these unanswered questions and much more. As much as Barnaby Joyce is desperately trying to make us all look the other way, he will have to admit he has misled those living in rural and regional Australia as to the purpose of the Senate Inquiry.
Post the Senate Inquiry Barnaby Joyce may also find he has a number of questions to answer about the true cost and effectiveness of relocating the APVMA to his own electorate, which this time he won’t be able to dodge.