David Littleproud must ensure proper transparency and accountability about who will serve on the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) board.
The RIC is another Barnaby Joyce boondoggle pork barrel established to deliver water infrastructure and farm business concessional loans, something currently done via the States and Territories.
The RIC will cost $28 million dollars and is to be established in Orange, a seat the state National Party lost last year having previously held for 69 years. It is important to note that due to Labor’s Senate amendments the RIC Board will now have the power to decide where the RIC should be established. The RIC Board will also have the responsibility for the development of working guidelines for the farm business concessional loans.
Expressions of Interest for Board appointments opened on 26 May 2017 and closed on 23 June 2017.
On 14 December 2017, I sought information under the FOI Act regarding the RIC board appointments, my FOI request sought information about correspondence from the Department and the then Minister and his staff. Since then the Minister’s Department has provided excuse after excuse as to why they cannot provide the information sought.
Correspondence from the Minister’s Department dated 14 March 2018 (following an internal review) states that my FOI continues to be denied on the grounds that the Department doesn’t have the time to do the work. I consider it is important to know why there is so much correspondence that the Department would struggle to assess it all. There are only four part-time Board positions and one part-time Chair position.
The decision maker, however, does acknowledge that there is general public interest in information about the process undertaken for board appointments but is claiming that the documents within the scope of my request are not confined to describing the process undertaken.
The decision maker also states that “I do not accept that the public interest in the information requested warrants jeopardising the function of establishing the RIC”.
This is not good enough, establishing the RIC Board should not be this complicated unless there is something significantly wrong with the criteria and the process used to assess the applications put forward.
We know the RIC is a political boondoggle pork barrel and it is important that the RIC Board appointments are not compromised by a lack of integrity in the appointment process.
The fact that the Minister’s department is stretched because of Barnaby Joyce’s lack of good public policy decisions is not a good enough reason to deny the proper transparency and accountability for the RIC Board appointments.
The use of $28 million taxpayer dollars warrants the information requested to be provided on legitimate public interest grounds.
I will be seeking that the decision be reviewed by the Australian Information Commissioner.