Its just six short weeks until the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) is scheduled to be functioning in Orange, but as yet it has no CEO and no staff.
The lagging progress has been revealed in Senate Estimates today:
SENATOR MALARDIRRI MCCARTHY: Has the board appointed an acting CEO for the RIC yet?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR FARM SUPPORT DIVISION, DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES CAMERON HUTCHINSON: The board hasnt yet appointed an acting CEO. That is a matter that is still being finalised Senator.
MCCARTHY: Why hasnt the board appointed one?
HUTCHINSON: Its a significant appointment and the board is working with the Government on the appointment of an acting CEO.
MCCARTHY: When will it be finalised?
HUTCHINSON: Thats a matter for the Government and the board Senator.
MCCARTHY: You have no time frame?
HUTCHINSON: I cant offer you a time frame.
MCCARTHY: The Government hasnt provided any timeframe?
HUTCHINSON: No Senator I cant. I would expect it is to be done shortly or imminently but beyond that I cant offer you a specific timeframe Senator.
MCCARTHY: Is the Department confident that the RIC will be up and running or functioning by the first of July?
HUTCHINSON: Certainly the Governments expectation as set out in the Bill is that the Regional Investment Corporation will be up and running by one July.
No CEO, no staff and no idea when they will be appointed, or in fact when the positions will even be advertised. Yet the Department is adamant the RIC is on track for its 1 July operational deadline.
Meanwhile, the Department has conceded that to enable the pork barrel to have any chance of being functional in Orange, a team of 26 fulltime staff located within the Farm Support Division of the Department based in Canberra will be diverted from their usual work to prop up this struggling project.
Options have been explored to maintain these staff members currently working on the set up of the RIC for as long as necessary. But as the Department admits,
HUTCHINSON: How long that occurs is a bit of an unknown at this point.
The RIC is another Barnaby Joyce boondoggle pork barrel established to deliver water infrastructure and farm business concessional loans, something that is currently being done via the States and Territories.
The RIC will cost $28 million dollars and is to be established in Orange, a seat the NSW National Partylostlast year having previously held for 69 years.
Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud must ensure proper transparency and accountability when it comes to the establishment of the RIC.
Farmers deserve better support and certainty when it comes to drought assistance. The fact is, this function could have been left as is and the $28 million dollars being wasted on a pork barrel invested in proper drought reform.