WITH federal parliament launching today for the first time in 2018, the centrepiece of the Coalition government’s farm election policy of 2016, the “Barnaby Bank”, remains in a state of flux and is set to become a point of political focus.
A prime election pledge in the farm policy revealed by then Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce in mid-2016, the Regional Investment Corporation’s (RIC) ratification, also known as the “Barnaby Bank”, was held to ransom in the Senate late last year by former Tasmanian independent Senator Jacqui Lambie, just prior to her resignation over dual citizenship.
But Ms Lambie’s absence from federal parliament - and that of her replacement Steve Martin whose eligibility under Section 44 of the constitution is also being tested in the High Court - still hasn’t resolved whether the RIC enabling legislation has the required support and votes of crossbench Senators, in order to be passed.
With a time-bomb ticking for the federal government - given it was announced by Mr Joyce that the RIC would be established at Orange in regional NSW by mid-year as part of the Coalition’s controversial decentralisation agenda - pressure is now on his replacement David Littleproud to resolve unfinished business.
The RIC’s establishment has been supported by the National Farmers’ Federation as means of streamlining the delivery of $2 billion in drought support funds to producers in times of need, via concessional loans, by removing stifling state based bureaucracies.
Mr Joyce has also driven the RIC’s establishment as an agency to deliver $2b in water infrastructure funding via the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility.
The Nationals leader has urged Ms Lambie to support the RIC to win the backing of Tasmanian farmers and the farm industry in general.
But Ms Lambie directed her party’s vote towards Labor upon her resignation with the Opposition not supporting the enabling legislation, or the Greens, citing a range of flaws in the agency’s proposed governance.
Australian Greens Senator and agriculture spokesperson Janet Rice says the RIC would be nothing short of a “National party slush fund”, which would give “unfettered” power to the minister “without parliamentary or even cabinet oversight”.
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media, Mr Littleproud said the RIC would now be under his “remit” as the new minister.
“I’m working proactively with crossbench Senators, around a way forward, in terms of putting that in place,” he said.
“I’m committed to the RIC as was Barnaby Joyce, and will continue to make strides to get that achieved.”
Mr Littleproud however would not disclose details of any talks he’s held with the crossbench members and whether the RIC now had the support of the Jacqui Lambie Network, or others, to be passed.
“I’m working with all members of the crossbench, and I’m trying to work collaboratively with them,” he said.
“Those that have concerns about the RIC, I’m trying to get an appreciation of what those concerns are and how we can move forward to get an outcome that achieves the establishment of the RIC by July 1 this year.
“I see it as a key policy area that I’ll continue to work with and will be quite open and collaborative with those crossbench Senators to try to secure the establishment of the RIC by July 1, this year.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has urged Mr Littleproud to address drought policy, in taking over the farm portfolio from Mr Joyce.
“The closest Barnaby Joyce got to a drought policy was his Regional Investment Corporation pork barrel which is stalled in the Senate,” he said.
“The RIC is to be located in Orange where the Nationals lost a State seat for the first time in 69 years.
“It’s time for new Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to step up - he will have bipartisan support.”
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