Brassey Weddings Masthead

Canberra is not just a workplace

Tara Cheyne

I moved to Canberra on 17 January 2008 knowing no one.

I’d never even set foot here until I stepped off the plane that day. I’d just been accepted as a graduate at the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department.

I had no idea what I was in for. I was excited about the work but, as a proud Queenslander all my life, I was concerned about how I’d fit in with the city, and if the city would accept me. Would I hate it? How long would I stay? Would I meet anyone? What was there to do here?

I didn’t expect I’d be here for long. I didn’t expect to fall in love with Canberra so quickly.

The city wooed me with its cafes, nightlife, bushland and ease of movement.

I realised it’s not just a city that’s “two hours to the beach or snow”, but a city that has so much right here. I didn’t expect how soon I’d call Canberra my home. How homesick I would be when I travelled away from it.

The more I fell in love with Canberra, the more I put my roots down here. I made more and more friends – both in and outside of the public service. I bought a house. Introduced two dogs into my life.

I became a fierce defender of this city, and then a fierce promoter. Like many, I wasn’t surprised when the OECD ranked Canberra as the best city in the world.

The thing is, my story isn’t unusual. My story might be your story. Or your mother’s story. Or your friend’s story. The public service brings many people to Canberra, but it is the city that makes them stay.

And that’s why the federal Government’s announcement yesterday is so abhorrent – that departments will need to actively justify why they shouldn’t have to move out of Canberra as part of a ‘decentralisation’ process undermines our great city and its people.

Canberra is not just a workplace. It is our home and Canberrans are not chess pieces. We have lives we have built here.

We’re a public service town but we’re not just a public service town. We’re a cool, diverse little capital off the base of a strong public sector. If anything, the federal Government should be bringing more people to our great city and region, recognising Canberra’s potential and getting on board with the future of our city.

What is the cost of the uncertainty over the coming months as we wonder, “Will it be my department? Or my partner’s?”

What is the cost for small businesses as the uncertainty lingers? What is the cost of having people uproot their lives? To move away from their friends, from their home, and from their community?

You can’t put a price on how much Canberra means to Canberrans. But there is a real, human cost to the political games the federal Government is playing.


Tara Cheyne

Tara Cheyne is a Labor member for Ginninderra (covering most of Belconnen) in the ACT Legislative Assembly and Government Whip. Tara was elected to the Assembly in October 2016 and she is proud to be a member of the first majority-female parliament in Australia’s history. Prior to being elected, Tara enjoyed a rewarding career in the Australian Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Finance in Canberra. More about the Author

  • Michelle Ayers

    I moved here in 2001 with the intention of finishing my graduate position and moving on. I’m still here, I have met my life partner, we have a child, we just bought a house, he has a small business that is thriving and his reputation is building and building every day. We love Canberra, it’s people, it’s places and it’s heart. it’s not just a public Service town. Your article is beautiful and the fact is that the media portray public servants in such a bad light that the rest of the community don’t realise how hard we work, how much we give of ourselves and our families to make this country run, to provide welfare, health, defense forces, laws and the list goes on.

    Miranda Devine recently said (to paraphrase) that all public servants were worthless, that ‘Canberra’ was a waste of money. Canberra is NOT the parliament, It’s a township. It is a community and they need to think long and hard about these decisions. Moving departments to other towns? Leaving families broken, children moving schools, changing homes, why.. if the idea is to create new jobs in these towns, well i don’t know how many folks would move with their jobs and thuse not actually creat jobs but unemployment for those who can’t move. We’ve tried that over and over. DHS moved their IT HUBS to Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart, Then closed some of them after just a few years. Those families who moved ended up worse off.

    Let’s hope common sense prevails.