NEW Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud has succeeded where his predecessor Barnaby Joyce had failed, in securing legislation to implement the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC).
The RIC was a commitment made by Mr Joyce at the 2016 federal election as the centrepiece of the Coalition’s farm policy promise and the Nationals leader also announced it would be established at Orange in regional NSW by July 1.
However, the enabling legislation for the “Barnaby Bank” stalled in the Senate towards the end of 2017 and its passage through parliament remained a challenge for Mr Littleproud, at the start of his cabinet posting, with a ticking-clock.
But Mr Littleproud issued a statement today saying the RIC legislation had now passed the Senate and the agency would launch from July 30 this year, delivering on an important election commitment for the Coalition government.
Mr Littleproud – who had 20 years of banking experience including in agribusiness prior to his election in 2016 - said the RIC “dream would now become a reality for regional Australia”.
“The Nationals in Coalition committed to establishing the RIC because we believe in regional communities,” he said.
“We promised the RIC and we delivered.”
Mr Littleproud said the RIC would help to “spur” investment and growth in regional Australia.
He said it would administer loans directly to farmers, under the $2 billion farm business concessional loans program, from its decentralised regional headquarters in Orange, initially delivering around 25 jobs for the region.
“The RIC will also administer the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility to help fast-track the construction of priority water infrastructure projects, he said.
“It’s a shame we had to fight the Labor Party to deliver this promise to regional Australians,” he said.
The legislation that passed through the Senate today provides for the establishment of the RIC, its functions and governance arrangements, and the Bill will now return to the House of Representatives.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the RIC was “is a poor piece of public policy…driven by National Party raw politics rather than the interests of our farmers”.
“How else would you explain the decision to locate the Corporation in Orange, the place where the National Party lost a local parliamentary seat for the first time in 69 years?” he said.
“The case for the expenditure on tens of millions of dollars on this new entity has not been established and Labor continues to reject what we believe to be a political stunt and a shocking pork barrel.
“But we are pleased that although the Bill has now passed the Senate (33-31), we can at least be more confident about its improved governance arrangements and that new safeguards, provided by Labor’s amendments, will protect against further political abuse of the new entity.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the Turnbull government had accepted Labor amendments in the Senate which would help prevent “further political exploitation” of the proposed RIC.
He said the Amendments were narrowly rejected by the Senate last year and the RIC Bill had been stalled in the Senate.
The Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) said the RIC legislation passed with government amendments that it secured, relating to the $2 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility.
NXT said last year during negotiations on the legislation, former Senator Nick Xenophon secured a commitment from the Federal Government that they would amend the legislation to ensure that the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s advice is sought prior to any directions, relating to a water infrastructure project, are given by the Minister and that amendment passed the Senate today.
"This will provide strong guarantees that there will be no negative effects of this legislation on the Murray Darling Basin Plan," NXT environment spokesperson Senator Rex Patrick said.
“Consistent with NXT's strong position on openness and transparency, the amendment also requires the Minister to publish the advice on the internet within 30 business days of receiving it,” he said.
NXT agriculture spokesperson Rebekha Sharkie said having a body administering the concessional loans created “national consistency” in the scheme which was fair for all farmers.
“It means some farmers will no longer be denied federal assistance just because their land is on one side of the border,” she said.
"In South Australia for example, the dairy recovery loans have been under-utilised, due in part to the state government refusing to consider water allocations and livestock as part of the land value when assessing eligibility.
“Only 2 per cent of the total value of loans approved went to farm businesses in SA.”
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