CANBERRA -- Staff from a government department have been forced to work from the local McDonald's to use the fast food restaurant's free wi-fi, because their new office is not ready yet.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has been controversially relocated from Canberra to Armidale, in country NSW. Staff had opposed the move, to the area in deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's electorate, and in a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday the agency's chief executive Kareena Arthy admitted "substantial" job losses since the relocation to Armidale. At least 20 of the APVMA's regulatory scientists were among 48 employees to have quit the organisation in recent times.
It was revealed Armidale does not have any buildings suitable to house the agency, so a new structure was being built. The problem is, the APVMA has already moved to the country town, and without a suitable work place, they've been forced to improvise.
""We need a base rather than sitting in McDonald's using their free wi-fi," Arthy said.
"[The office] is there really as a practical basis for the APVMA staff who go to Armidale, because honestly, we sit in McDonald's to do our work."
McDonald's restaurants offer free wi-fi to customers. On its website, the fast food giant boasts "your favorite meal comes with complimentary Wi-Fi".
"Get some work done, check your email or connect with friends. With free Wi-Fi at more than 11,500 participating restaurants, customers can access the Internet using their laptops or mobile devices at no charge. So grab a McCafé Latte and log on," the Macca's website states.
Joyce and his Nationals colleagues held a Parliament House press conference on Wednesday for their decentralisation campaign which would lobby for more government departments to be moved out of Canberra and into other regions. Following Tuesday's estimates hearing and the McDonald's revelations, the Labor party decided to have some fun.
At the press conference, Joyce refuted claims the APVMA didn't have suitable office space.
"This is ridiculous. There are so many areas up there if they wish to have office space, they could get it. Armidale was one of the first cities to get the NBN," he claimed.
"So the idea that you have to work out of Macca's is a choice that they've made. I've been overwhelmed by people saying it was ridiculous and there was office space if they wanted it."
But Arthy's testimony at estimates seems to clearly set out that the agency has not found suitable lodgings yet. She said she expected most of the APVMA staff to continue working from home, rather than relocate to Armidale, because the government's order prevents the agency from having an official building in Canberra.
Joyce's press conference launched the website getoutofthecity.com.au, calling for submissions to "decentralise more government offices and agencies to country Australia as part of The Nationals plan to boost job opportunities in the bush". It's unclear if these departments will also be working out of fast food outlets.