It hasn’t been a good week for National Party pork-barrelling, with estimates hearings teasing out the bizarre circumstances of Barnaby Joyce’s insistence that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority be relocated from Canberra to his own electorate. The regulator is losing staff hand over fist and the few who have moved to Armidale — one of the few regional centres in the country even colder in winter than Canberra — have been forced to work at the local McDonald’s in order to get wi-fi while an entirely new building is constructed. To distract from this debacle and as part of his plan to fend off One Nation, yesterday Joyce called together Nationals MPs to launch a push for yet more decentralisation of public service departments away from Canberra (Labor left some Macca’s nearby, which photographers loved).
As with most things in politics, we’ve been here before: the great decentraliser wasn’t a Country Party leader but Gough Whitlam, who brought together the NSW and Victorian governments in 1973 to declare that Albury-Wodonga would become a new Canberra, with 300,000 people and a major university, as part of his agenda of decentralisation. Little of the ambition was ever made reality, but an Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation was set up and a significant chunk of the Tax Office still resides in Albury to this day as a result. And what happened to the AWDC? It got abolished by, um, the Abbott government, on January 1, 2015. Will Armidale make it to the 40-year mark?