Civil servants given ‘BBQ conversation’ talking points for Armidale relocation

Civil servants at the nation’s chemical regulator have been sent a series of glib “BBQ conversation” talking points to use when discussing the agency’s relocation to Northern NSW with friends and family.

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The government announced last year the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) would move from Canberra to Armidale in 2019.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has championed the $25 million relocation, saying it would help decentralise metropolitan-based government agencies and boost jobs in the country.

But the authority has struggled to get staff onboard, with a relocation strategy published in November last year suggesting only 10-15 per cent of staff would move to the new hub. 

A senate estimates hearing heard in February that 20 out of 100 scientists have already left the agency.

Now, employees have been given official talking points to use in social settings when discussing the relocation.

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“My friends have asked me many questions about the relocation since the announcement was made last year, and I’m sure this is a similar experience for everyone in our agency,” chief operating officer Stefanie Janiec wrote in the email dated April 7.

“These talking points have been crafted to help you with something we all refer to as the BBQ conversation.”

She continued: “Easter is just around the corner and I’m sure there are many BBQ opportunities where you can use these points to practice and build confidence talking about our relocation.”

Under a section “scripts and standard words”, a series of bullet points offer conversation suggestions to use for “all audiences”.

One piece of BBQ banter includes: “It’s no secret that the agency is changing – and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”

The talking points, which were first reported by the Canberra Times but have been seen by SBS News, also offer scripted lines for staff who are unsure if they’re relocating or staying put.

Employees unsure if they will make the move are advised to say, “I’m listening to what our executive have to say about the transition, but for the moment I’m getting on with the job.”

Call centre staff were also provided with talking points to help them inform and placate callers with enquiries.

APVMA chief executive Kareena Arthy sent an email to staff on Wednesday following the publication of the talking points. She said they were “more of a guide and not compulsory.”

“This is standard internal communication practice for organisations,” she said.

“This is just one of the ways ways the APVMA is keeping staff in the loop about changes and developments as the agency prepares for the relocation to Armidale by 2019.”

THE FEED: Could you move to Tamworth?

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