After a degree of across party argy-bargy, the Government notched up a win for the farm sector in Canberra this week. On Tuesday, the Senate passed legislation to establish the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC).
The RIC is the brainchild of former Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and current Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce.
Its purpose is to streamline the delivery of farm business concessional loans – loans farmers call upon during times of drought and other natural disasters – think Cyclone Debbie last year.
The no interest loans allow farmers to continue operating during tough times and to return to their operating potential, when conditions improve. Restocking and rebuilding infrastructure are often required after drought and other disasters.
The RIC is designed to streamline and centralise the administration of the $2 billion farm business concessional loans program via one Commonwealth agency.
Until now loans have been administered in a somewhat piecemeal fashion by the States.
National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson said farmers had long complained about the delay in accessing the loans and the red tape involved in qualifying.
“At a state and federal level, monies are made available with the best interests of farmers in mind, however the red tape involved often actually defeats its purpose.
“In some cases the process for accessing financial help causes more angst for farmers, at a time when there is already high pressure,” Ms Simson said.
The RIC will also administer the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility, a Government initiative, to help fast-track the construction of priority water infrastructure projects.
The RIC’s enabling legislation did not have a smooth passage through Parliament.
The Corporation will be established in Orange, in regional New South Wales, aligning with the Coalition’s Nationals’ arms’ aim to decentralise the provision of Government agencies.
This raised the ire of the Labor Opposition who labelled it pork barrelling and vowed not to support the Bill without the Government agreeing to a number of amendments – mainly of a governance nature.
The Nick Xenaphon Team, weren’t entirely happy either. They sought (and were granted) a provision that the advice of the Murray Darling Basin Authority be sought before any water infrastructure projects were approved.
But overall NXT saw the benefit the RIC would deliver farmers.
NXT agriculture spokesperson Rebekha Sharkie said the RIC would mean “national consistency”.
“It means some farmers will no longer be denied federal assistance just because their land is on one side of the border,” she said.
Despite the hold up the RIC is now a reality and this brought a smile to the face of Agriculture Minister David Littleproud MP and farmers alike.