Wednesday, 17 June 2020
Regional Investment Corporation; Consideration
That the Senate take note of the document.
I wish to speak to the ANAO report on the Regional Investment Corporation. The Regional Investment Corporation, or RIC, was established in 2018, with significant financing, supposedly to streamline administration of $4 billion in concessional loans across two schemes, for farm businesses and national water infrastructure. As we can see in this report from the ANAO, $387 million, across 367 farm loans, has been approved within 18 months of operation. The ANAO note that the RIC board appointments largely reflect the required skill sets and find that there were, on average, 113 business days between submission and decision on loans.
In relation to the board, the ANAO report shows that, between June 2018 and March 2020, there had been no skills coverage on the board in relation to financial accounting and auditing. This is a pretty massive oversight for an investment corporation making large loans. More concerningly, the ANAO report notes that the then chair declared a conflict of interest on 10 September 2019 but continued to chair the meeting, including in relation to the RIC strategic framework and audit and budget updates. The chair's resignation to the minister didn't follow until 19 September 2019, despite requirements under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act for notification as soon as possible and taking steps to manage conflicts of interest. This is pretty extraordinary.
Returning to the timing for the loans, this is something that I'm quite concerned about. In particular, I want to highlight the case of loans to plantations which were intended to be delivered by the RIC. As part of their election commitments, the Liberals committed to support the delivery of one billion new plantation trees through a new concessional loan product under the Regional Investment Corporation. There was a very short consultation that took place on that approach between November and December 2019. But, despite the promises, the process, the spin and the marketing, we've yet to see the Liberals deliver on this. In fact, media reporting today confirms:
CHEAP loans aimed at boosting the nation's forestry plantations have yet to be rolled out, more than a year after they were first promised.
We need to end native forest logging, with its terrible impacts on our wildlife, water and climate. Instead we should be supporting environmentally sustainable forestry plantations, including through these concessional loans where appropriate, to help complete the shift to a wood products industry that is 100 per cent based on plantations, shifting from the current 88 per cent.
But the Liberals are all marketing spin and no substance when it comes to doing the right thing. We've known for decades the incredible damage that native forest logging does. We know it's bad for the ecosystems that are torn apart and it's bad for threatened species whose habitats are destroyed. It's terrible for our communities too, and we lose the benefits of the forest as a carbon store, which are so critical as we face a climate emergency. Then we lose the economic benefits that come from regional tourism as people travel to explore these precious places. But, most of all, we lose the forests themselves, that incredibly important connection to nature and the incredible beauty and diversity of these forests as they are logged, taking hundreds of years, if ever, to return to something similar to their former state. So much is at stake, and there are enormous implications. That's why the recent Federal Court decision on logging native forests in Victoria was so important. It found that native forest logging in 66 forest areas across Australia was illegal, and it put native forest logging on notice. It's got implications right across Australia.
We know that it's time for the Commonwealth to get out of native forest logging. It was time decades ago. So we need action from the government on support for sustainable plantations and jobs in the plantation based wood products industries. But, sadly, the Regional Investment Corporation hasn't even been able to issue any of these loans. Instead we have this ANAO report showing that the RIC has taken more than 100 business days on average to approve loans under its existing schemes. If you're seeking financing under a concessional loan scheme for plantations, you are still waiting.
All we've seen from this government is slick spin and marketing. We saw it in forestry videos commissioned by the department to make the forestry industry look incredibly glossy. For a party that likes to talk about government waste, the Liberals spend far too much on marketing and spin. They should deliver the substance that makes a real difference by supporting plantations and ending native forest logging.
Question agreed to.