The best interests of the department have been cited by both sides in the dispute over whether the Department of Arts, Sport and the Environment should move from Civic to Tuggeranong. Left unsaid, at least publicly, are the selfish motives for those who want the move and those against.
On one side is the Public Sector Union which has taken up the concerns of what it says are the 90 per cent of the 800 staff who do not want to move. On the other side is the Minister, Ros Kelly.
The debate must be laughable from the perspective of people living in Sydney and Melbourne. For them the 20-minute trip from Tuggeranong to Parliament House or Civic would be luxury. In Canberra, some consider it a burden.
The PSU has questioned Mrs Kelly’s motives. Mrs Kelly has moved her own office to Tuggeranong, and when the ACT gets a third seat it is very likely she will opt for the one that embraces Tuggeranong. Clearly, Mrs Kelly has a political interest in expanding the Tuggeranong workforce so that businesses in Tuggeranong get a spin-off. That is a perfectly proper interest. Local members are there to pursue the interests of their electors. However, that interest as local member should not be the determining factor in Mrs Kelly’s decision as Minister to move the department. It is as if Mrs Kelly (the Minister) is receiving representations from Mrs Kelly (the local member). No doubt Mrs Kelly will find her arguments as to why the department should move as very persuasive. None the less she should be capable of sorting out the pros and cons and making a decision in the best interest (not only of the department) but public administration generally. The fact that the proposal and the factors for and against are quite open militates against Mrs Kelly giving too much emphasis to her interests as local member in making her decision.
On the merits itself, the issues are; the need to bring the department under one roof instead of being spread among six buildings in Civic; the need to be close to other departments and Parliament House; the general effect on the city; and the convenience of staff.
It makes good sense to have a department in one building. That factor should outweigh the others because there is more contact within a department than between departments. Tuggeranong, in any event, is not far away, in distance or time. This detracts from the force of the argument that as a policy department it needs to engage in hot debate and negotiations with other departments and agencies. It can do that just effectively from Tuggeranong, perhaps more so once the whole department comes under one roof. Further, modern communications, especially faxes and tele-conferences, make it less imperative for departments to be close to each other.
Tuggeranong is an integral part of Canberra. It is quite reasonable for the Government to consider the needs of the city as a whole in placing departments. The city has been planned with several centres, one of which is Tuggeranong. The city will no function well if all departments are in Civic. Decentralising makes sense. Some departments are in Civic, others in Belconnen, Woden and Tuggeranong. Because of that, Canberra does not have the peak-time traffic chaos of other cities.
Some staff, no doubt, will selfishly want to stay in Civic because they do not want extra travelling time. Others, however, will have shorter travelling time. Moreover, parking is easier and cheaper in Tuggeranong and amenities are no worse than in Civic, perhaps newer and better.
Many people forced to move with their work resist furiously, especially if the move is out of town, but shortly after the move staff quickly realise that the greater amenity in the newer environment outweighs the other disadvantages and the debate over the move will look like the storm in a teacup that it really is.
The PSU’s crass threat that “”75 per cent of staff will take whatever action is necessary” to remain in Civic can be met with the simple riposte that if you do not turn up for work in Tuggeranong you don’t get paid.