The main public sector union warned the Murray Darling Basin Authority had been in Canberra as a neutral location to manage the river system in the interests of all Australians, rather than the self-interested agendas of a few.
The Coalition expects the authority will complete the move from Canberra in two years, and the agency has started consulting with staff. It is yet to decide how it will move the jobs.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud on Wednesday announced 48 jobs would go to Mildura in Victoria’s north-west and south-west NSW regional centre Griffith. South Australian town Murray Bridge will have 12 of the positions moving from Canberra.
The Nationals expect to announce the fourth town receiving authority jobs soon. The agency in June had 94 per cent of its staff in the ACT but has tried to decentralise its workforce more with small offices in Toowoomba and Goondiwindi in Queensland.
Leader of the junior Coalition partner, Michael McCormack, said the authority’s jobs should move closer to the Murray Darling Basin. Mr Littleproud said the move would be regarded a great example of decentralisation in years to come.
Murray Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde vowed not to rush its relocation and risk destabilising its work managing the river system.
“The expertise of our staff is highly valued and their feedback and ideas will be critically important to the planning the MDBA undertakes to deliver the government decision in 2021,” he said.
Community and Public Sector Union deputy secretary Beth Vincent-Pietsch said the planned relocation showed the Coalition had learned nothing from the pesticides authority’s troubled move.
“Any forced relocation would cause significant hardship for MDBA workers, leading many to take their priceless skills and experience elsewhere, while doing absolutely nothing to benefit the Murray-Darling system or anyone who relies on its health and sustainability,” she said.
Labor environment and water spokesman Tony Burke said he had sought a briefing from the authority on what positions would move.
“There is some work of the authority that is effectively done at a community level but there is a large amount of work that is most effectively done in a coordinated single office,” he said.
“The test for Labor will be straightforward – it will only have our support if there is no loss in the technical capacity and the performance of the authority, and that is not yet clear.
“If this decision is anything like the APVMA decision then it will not have our support.”
Doug Dingwall is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service and politics.