A new agency controversially located in Orange remains unapproved by Federal Parliament despite a July deadline to begin operating.
The Coalition move to establish the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) has triggered a Senate stand-off over the agency, having drawn fire by critics who accused Nationals leader and former Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce of pork barrelling in response to his party’s state byelection loss in November 2016.
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate Philip Donato narrowly defeated Nationals’ favourite Scott Barrett, the first time the Coalition partner had lost the seat of Orange in 69 years.
Legislation to establish the corporation remains in the Senate, where it will be debated again in February at the earliest, months from the agency’s planned start date in July.
A delay will potentially hold up efforts to find a building, enter contracts and recruit staff for the agency, which the government hopes will streamline delivery of concessional loans to farmers.
The government in August started looking for an office to house the RIC, but Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has warned the Coalition not to proceed with any contracts, saying it remained unclear if the legislation would pass.
Mr Fitzgibbon labelled the RIC as poor policy designed to buy votes in Calare, and urged the government to rethink its plan.
“The location of the RIC is a political fix and no objective process was undertaken,” he said.
The debate has been hampered by drama over vote pairing, after former Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie exited Parliament during the citizenship fiasco, saying she did not support the Coalition's bill.
Despite arguments from Labor and the Greens that Ms Lambie's intentions should be honoured in any Senate vote on the corporation, the Coalition refused a pair, saying she had not reached a position.
Coalition Senate leader Mathias Cormann told senators this month the government could not know what position Ms Lambie would have taken once parliamentary debate about the investment corporation had finished.
“The time to make a judgement is the time when a vote is taken,” he said.
Labor senator Penny Wong said Ms Lambie had made her views clear before leaving the Senate, and that if the Coalition didn’t honour these with a pair for a vote on the new corporation, it would reconsider its own pairing arrangements.
“I do not expect the government to behave like this in a chamber where conventions around pairing have always been honoured,” she said.
Mr Joyce has previously said the government considered several regional cities for the agency, including Albury-Wodonga, Bathurst, Bendigo, Lithgow, Toowoomba and Wagga Wagga.
Labor says none of these locations were given the chance to fairly compete to host the corporation.