LOCATING the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) at Orange in regional NSW isn’t pork barrelling says Barnaby Joyce but the Opposition’s criticism of the decentralisation move highlights double standards on regional development policy.
Mr Joyce spoke to media alongside NSW Nationals MP Andrew Gee and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud after enabling legislation passed the Senate last week with amendments put forward by Labor to improve governance standards.
That breakthrough, after the legislation stalled late last year in the Senate and was parked for several weeks, will now ensure the RIC, which has been also named the ‘Barnaby Bank’, is established by its July 1 deadline.
Mr Gee is the federal member for Calare which contains Orange where the RIC will now be based as a commonwealth facility to streamline the delivery of up to $2 billion in concessional loans for farmers facing challenges like drought and $2b in water infrastructure funding.
Mr Gee said the RIC would “really benefit country communities” and improve the administration of concessional loans to farmers and help to build “badly needed” water infrastructure in country communities.
“This is something that will be warmly welcomed in country Australia, and for the critics who say, ‘Nah, we don't need it’, they're talking a different language from people who live in the country, because folks in the bush know how important this type of facility is, how important these concessional loans are, and they know that it helps build our country communities and keep them together,” he said.
“It's been disappointing that you've had some knockers out there, like (Labor Shadow Agriculture Minister) Joel Fitzgibbon, for example, who said it was pork barrelling for Orange - I totally reject that.
“We're talking about a decentralisation program here that country people all over Australia welcome.
“We know the value of moving these departments out of the big cities, out of Sydney and Canberra, and into the regions and helping our regions to develop and grow.
“I think this is a really important development, and to the knockers, they can keep on knocking, but we're in the business of building regional Australia and that's precisely what we're doing with the passing of this legislation through the Senate.”
Asked why he rejected Mr Fitzgibbon’s assertions the RIC location in Orange was pork barrelling, given the NSW Nationals loss of the local seat to the Shooters and Fishers and Farmers party at the most recent state election, Mr Joyce indicated there was a double standard at play.
“Whenever it happens in a Labor seat it's apparently good government and when it happens in a Coalition seat it's pork barrelling,” he said.
“Might I remind you that the Department of Mines was moved by a Labor government to Maitland and that would make sense – there's a lot of mines around there.
“Might I remind you that the Labor government at a state level has also moved, I think, the gun registry to one of their northern Labor seats, and that's fine.
“Every time something gets moved out of regional areas – when they close down a post office; when they close down facilities; when they close down schools in regional areas, we just have to accept it.
“We just have to accept it as the state of play.
“But when we apparently have the temerity to say, ‘No, we'll actually move things back to regional areas’, then they call us pork barrelling.”
Mr Joyce said if you followed the Labor Party “mantra” everything would be located in Sydney and “That would be it”.
“Sydney would be a really big city and nothing else would exist,” he said.
“Remember, this city that we're in here right now, Canberra – a great city – it was brought about by a decentralisation agenda, that we would not have government just based in Melbourne.
“I don't think anybody's complaining about Canberra at the moment - it's our greatest example of decentralisation.
“The problem is, sometimes we think it's the only example of decentralisation.”
Let’s be like the US on farming but not media
While Mr Joyce warned against Australia following the US media example this week, in reporting on the private lives of politicians, after it was revealed he was in a relationship with a former female staff member who is now pregnant, he believed following the US agriculture was an example of being visionary.
“We're going to build what America did with Chicago and create the centre of excellence in agriculture - we're going to do that to Orange - we've got to start the process somewhere,” he said.
“We've got to start the vision somewhere, and we are doing that.
“And the expertise in agriculture chemicals, for both vets and plants, in Armadale.
“And the intermodal capacity in a great hub, like a Fort Worth, you can do that in Parkes.
“And with (Murray Darling Basin Authority) we're going to move that - we'll be moving that out - I'm sure that Dave's (Littleproud) got a lot more to say about that, so we have it actually incentives on the river.
“We are a government of vision and we've done it in the past with the (Australian Antarctic Division) which is obviously more relevant that it's in Hobart.
“The Labor Party will always say the one thing….that everything should be in Canberra, even though, in its initial form, they would never have supported that.
“They would've left government in Melbourne.”
Mr Littleproud said the Coalition had promised the RIC and had now taken “one huge step” in delivering it for the people of regional Australia, by passing the legislation through the Senate, which would now go to the House of Representatives.
“We're saying to the rest of Australia that we believe in regional and rural Australia,” he said.
“We're prepared to make the bold investments with the strategic steps to ensure that regional and rural Australia gets to participate in the wealth of the future.
“We're a government for all of Australians, not just big city Australians, and I have to say that this wouldn't have happened without the hard work of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Joyce) who came up with this concept many years ago.
“Everyone's talked about it, but today we've delivered as a National Party, we've delivered as a government, and I have to say, to you, Deputy Prime Minister, this is a really sweet moment for you for the hard work and determination that you've put into it.”
Mr Joyce said locating the RIC at Orange would lead to “another centre of excellence” being established in regional Australia with co-location of finance agencies like Paraway Finances, which deals with issues for Macquarie Bank, in the agricultural sector.
He said one of the major rural lending arms of the National Australia Bank and the NSW Department of Agriculture were also located there.
“It made abundant sense that we drove and built on this centre of excellence with a $4 billion bank, and that is what we're doing – the Regional Investment Corporation, a $4 billion investment facility that will be based in this marvellous city,” he said.
“It goes to show the architecture of our vision for our nation.
“If you have the intellect and the capacity to deal with veterinary medicines and plant chemicals, and Armadale is going to be such a centre of excellence with the (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority) APVMA moving up there.
“With the Inland Rail, we get the expansion of Parkes as the crossover point between Perth and Sydney, and Melbourne and Brisbane, on that new corridor of commerce.
“We're seeing decentralisation in its many forms, with Wodonga picking up part of the MDBA, with Northam in Western Australia picking up part of the Grain Research Development Corporation.
“We have a vision for decentralisation (and) we have the aptitude to make sure that what we do is grow regional areas.”
Mr Joyce said the RIC had been “talked about by so many”.
“They talked about it and talked about it and talked about it, but they never did it - we have done it,” he said.
“We have got it through the Senate, we'll get it back through the Lower House with its amendments, and we will make sure that we drive this agenda forward.
“You'll hear other people on the crossbenches and independents talk about these sorts of things, as they'll likely do (but) the difference is the Coalition and the National Party actually did it, actually delivered on it, and it's been hard work.
“If the Labor Party want to work with us in a bipartisan way, I'm sure that we can do a lot in that space - but as you know, the Labor Party is one of the greatest hurdles in any form of decentralisation because they just don't have the vision for regional efforts.”
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