Littleproud Moment For Coalition: Agriculture Minister Moves Canberra Jobs To His Own Electorate

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So arrogant is the Morrison Government, and apparently so convinced are they of their own impending wipe-out at the upcoming federal election, they’re not even trying to hide their pork-barrelling anymore, writes Chris Graham.

It wasn’t all that long ago that pork-barrelling – the process of politicians throwing taxpayers money at their own electorates – was a pretty big news story. Indeed, the most famous of them – the ‘sports rort affair’ claimed the job of Ros Kelly in 1994, Paul Keating’s sports minister after it emerged the rigorous process of directing $30 million in sports grants was nutted out on a “giant whiteboard” in Kelly’s Ministerial office (the money mostly to marginal Labor-held seats).

But today, pork-barrelling is about as common as a celebrity social media meltdown, and ministers and government MPs now do it without any hint of embarrassment. And it’s no longer just about allocating grants and funding to seats held by your own party – Ministers have taken to actually up-rooting the lives of public servants, and sending them halfway around the country to live in, well, the Ministers’ electorates.

Barnaby Joyce has been a recent pioneer of this strategy – shortly after being appointed Agriculture Minister, Joyce ordered the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to his own electorate of New England. Indeed, to his hometown of Armidale, where he now lives with his former media adviser and their two children after being dumped from the ministry for his infidelity and rank stupidity.

A cost-benefit analysis of the move – completed by accounting firm Ernst and Young – revealed that the price tag of the moving bill alone was $25 million, and that $157 million a year was ripped out of Canberra’s economy.

Maybe it’s something about ‘Agriculture Ministers’ – or just being a member of the National Party, but Joyce’s replacement, David Littleproud, has announced a ‘Joyce-esque’ style move with the ‘decentralisation’ of jobs within the Murray Darling Basin Authority (Littleproud is also the Minister for Water Resources).

In an apparently shameless media statement issued earlier today, Littleproud’s office notes:

“Goondiwindi has secured 20 permanent Government jobs, as the Federal Coalition pushes ahead with decentralisation of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and Member for Maranoa David Littleproud said he was proud to see a significant share of positions go to the town.”

I’m sure he is – Goondiwindi is one of the larger towns in Littleproud’s south-east rural Queensland electorate of Maranoa.

In total, 100 jobs are to go from Canberra, with the rest being sent south, towards Mildura (Vic), Murray Bridge (SA) and Griffith (NSW).

“I fought hard for this because it’ll make a big difference to Goondiwindi,” Minister Littleproud said.

“The people who manage the river system should live on the river. Moving government services closer to those they’re there to serve is only common sense.”

Which is a great theory, but in fact the staff from the MDBA being forcibly moved to Goondiwindi won’t actually be ‘living on the river’, at least not unless there’s significant rainfall in the next few months.

As of this week, the flow in the Macintyre River, according to Queensland Government figures, is at 1.368 metres. The Macintyre ceases to flow at 1.27 metres.

Ironically, that might have something to do with the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s performance of its duties – it was the target of a scathing Royal Commission report in South Australia earlier this year, which noted aspects of the MBDA’s management of the Basin have been “criminal”.

There was also a report a few weeks later from the Australia Academy of Science, which laid the blame for the downstream death of two million fish, in the Darling River at Menindee, on the mismanagement of the river system, plus a scathing review by The Australia Institute, headed by a former senior bureaucrat within the MDBA.

Littleproud notes:

“This opens new and meaningful job opportunities for locals that will potentially bring 20 new families to Goondiwindi.

“There’s also going to be a small flow over of jobs into St George and Dirranbandi.”

Both those towns are in Littleproud’s electorate too.

“In years to come people will highlight the MDBA as a great example of decentralisation,” Littleproud added.

Which assumes the MDBA will survive into the future. If it does, it’ll be doing a lot better than many of the river systems it manages.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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