Barnaby Joyce must rethink his regional investment corporation pork barrel

Barnaby Joyce has been given a clear message from the Senate this week that his Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) doesn’t add up and should be reconsidered.

Barnaby Joyce has been given a clear message from the Senate this week that his Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) doesn’t add up and should be reconsidered.

Much like the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority boondoggle, the RIC is poor policy, designed to buy votes in the seat of Calare.

The Government tried to abuse the long standing Senate pairing conventions to push the RIC Bill through, by denying Jacqui Lambie a pair. It is important to note that all other Senators caught up in the citizenship matters have been allocated a pair.

The honouring of pairs during the Senate debate for Government Senators actually meant that Labor lost amendments moved prior to Jacqui Lambie leaving the Senate.

Labor sought to amend the Bill to give the RIC board the power to determine where the RIC can be located, the vote was lost by one 28 to 29.  Why is this important? Because the location of the RIC is a political fix and no objective process was undertaken in determining where to locate the RIC.

The proof is in the pudding.

November 2016 the Nationals lost the Orange by-election ending a 69 year run.

In May 2017, Orange in NSW was announced as the successful regional town to house the RIC.  Barnaby Joyce claims Albury-Wodonga, Bendigo, Wagga Wagga, Bathurst, Lithgow and Toowoomba were all considered for the RIC headquarters before Orange was selected.

The location of the RIC is made under the same policy order which is forcing the APVMA to relocate to Barnaby Joyce’s own electorate. This policy order is not disallowable.

While Barnaby Joyce listed a number of possible other locations, none of these locations were given the opportunity to fairly compete to have the RIC located in their regional towns.

During debate about the location of the RIC, we had the extraordinary event of Cory Bernardi agreeing with the Greens that no proper process was undertaken in determining where the RIC should be located other than that it was a political fix for Barnaby Joyce.

Labor sought to ensure that this abuse of process was addressed by amending the Bill to ensure that the RIC board had the power to determine where the RIC is to be located.

Senate extract – 18 October 2017

Senator RICE (Victoria) (11:24): The Greens will be supporting this amendment from Labor. The fact that the board is being directed to establish its headquarters in Orange underlines the whole rationale behind so much of this legislation. It is giving power without any assessment process, without any objective process. It gives the minister the power to direct the board, quite inappropriately.

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (11:26): Surprisingly, I find myself in agreement with Senator Rice. I ask the minister: are you able to confirm that the electorates and regional centres that were talked about are where the National Party is under extreme political threat by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party?

Senator RUSTON (South Australia—Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (11:26): Senator Bernardi, what I can confirm for you today is that Orange is a thriving regional community. It is the hub of much of the agricultural bureaucratic infrastructure for the New South Wales agriculture department. Having the Regional Investment Corporation located in Orange has certainly received wide support from the community. As I responded to Senator Brown, Orange is a regional community and this government supports the development and growth of our regional economies.

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (11:27): I can confirm for you—just in case you were in any doubt—that it is the heart of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and their supporters, which, of course, is playing into the concerns of the National Party. 

Senator RUSTON (South Australia—Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (11:28): Senator Bernardi, at the risk of suggesting you're being tricky, I can assure you that all the appropriate processes that are afforded to a government instrumentality will apply to the Regional Investment Corporation and that the appropriate levels of governance, accountability, transparency and notification will occur in line with such acts as the PGPA Act and all of the requirements that will be issued as part of the operating mandate of this organisation.

Senator BERNARDI  (South Australia) (11:28): Thank you, Minister. I'm heartened by your reassurance that all the appropriate probity and accountability of government will be brought to bear in many of these grants. But what you've said flies in stark contrast to what Senator Rice has been saying—which has resonated with me, quite frankly—which is that there is no real, formal approval process.

Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (11:33): I would just like to follow on from Senator Bernardi's contribution because the minister in her response made it no clearer to the chamber what the process was that was undertaken to determine Orange as the location for the RIC. There was no indication of whether there were any other locations—and there are many locations around Australia that have vibrant farming communities. Unless the minister can tell us now what the process was and what, if any, other locations were considered, the only thing that we in this chamber can safely assume is that this is about pork-barrelling by Mr Joyce and a political fix for the National Party. That is the only conclusion that we can come to, because the minister has failed to tell this chamber exactly what the process was.

In addition to the lack of a transparent and proper process in determining where to locate RIC, there are many other failings in the Bill as it currently stands. 

I urge Barnaby Joyce to take the time over the Christmas break to reconsider his boondoggle and to work in a constructive and meaningful manner with the States and Territories in finding a genuine solution for the delivery of farm concessional loans.

I also caution the Minister not to proceed with contractual arrangements before the Bill has passed the Parliament as currently there is no guarantee this will actually happen. 


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