Once upon a time a Poor Young Single Mother joined the Australian Public Service.
She lived, with her child, in a North Sydney bedsitter, reporting for a trade paper owned by a rich and charismatic man who had once flown a plane under Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The PYSM had struggled to find child sitters who were not extortionate in fees or forgetful to arrive, before she had had to flee, notebook in hand (trade events and launches were often held out of hours). Joining the APS seemed a sensible solution, although her colleagues derided her for even thinking of a move to Canberra (“flies as big as cockroaches in summer, ice bound for six month of winter”) but she plunged into the unknown, surfacing as a Grade A Journalist. Those were the days when the APS recruited journalists to translate the arcane language of bureaucrats into understandable vernacular.
Some 34 years later, the PYSM – slightly less impoverished, definitely older, reads that APVMA staff – the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority – are refusing to relocate from Canberra to Armidale, though it is the wish of their Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader, Barnaby Joyce.
APVMA is responsible for the approvals of farm pesticides and amid much wringing of hands and tearing of hair, 20 regulatory scientists and an additional 28 staff members with 204 years of service between them, have left causing former APVMA boss Joe Smith to say the loss of staff would be devastating to the agency.
Really? Armidale is a thriving regional centre, a city that has all the services needed for a good life (the PYSM arrived in Canberra to find a couple of milk bars and shopping centres serviced the communities then-simple needs). Scientists, like other Canberrans, have partners and families who may not wish to relocate, but then, so did the partners and families of staff at the AMSA, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, whose Minister, Peter Morris, like Minister Joyce, decreed that AMSA should move, befitting an agency linked to sea ports, to Newcastle, a city, coincidentally sited in his electorate.
Serious handwringing ensued and AMSA staff were transported to Newcastle and shown the attractiveness of its location and services, many, just like APVMA staffers, dug their heels in and refused to move.
The Minister buckled, but Minister Joyce is made of sterner stuff, and besides, remembers history, when hundreds of Melburnian public servants were relocated to north, to Canberra, despite their grumbles.
An urban myth still making the rounds in the National Capital tells of the time the best accommodation in suburbs close to Russell Hill – Campbell and Reid were speedily seized by senior officers, leaving the less-lucky or more junior to find homes in Farrer or Hackett.
The former PYSM offers this to APVMA’s CEO Kareena Arthy.
Relocate – it won’t kill you or your organisation. And it may even be positive – how many eager young scientists out there would welcome a government job and the chance to relocate to Armidale?
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