Regional Investment Corporation held up in Senate despite July deadline

A new agency controversially located at the site of a historic Nationals byelection defeat remains unapproved by Parliament despite a July deadline to begin operating.

The Coalition move to establish the Regional Investment Corporation has triggered a Senate stand-off over the agency, which the government wants to locate in central-west NSW city Orange.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce faced accusations of pork barrelling over a decision to locate the Regional Investment Corporation in Orange.

Photo: Nick Moir

A decision to set up the corporation in the city, which sits at the heart of the NSW state electorate of Orange, drew fire in May as critics accused Nationals leader and former Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce of pork barrelling in response to his party's electoral loss there.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party won the seat from the Nationals in a 2016 byelection, the first time the Coalition partner had lost the seat in 69 years.

By the end of 2017, legislation to establish the corporation remained in the Senate where it was embroiled in a debate over vote pairing after former Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie exited Parliament during the citizenship fiasco, saying she did not support the Coalition's bill.

Despite arguments from Labor and the Greens that Ms Lambie's intentions should be honoured in any Senate vote on the corporation, the Coalition refused a pair, saying she had not reached a position.

The earliest the Senate will debate the corporation again is February, months from the agency's planned start in July.

A delay will potentially hold up efforts to find a building, enter contracts and recruit staff for the agency, which the government hopes will streamline delivery of concessional loans to farmers.

The government in August started looking for an office to house the RIC by early 2018, but Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has warned the Coalition not to proceed with any contracts, saying it remained unclear if the legislation would pass.

Coalition Senate leader Mathias Cormann told senators this month the government could not know what position Ms Lambie would have taken once parliamentary debate about the investment corporation had finished.

"The time to make a judgement is the time when a vote is taken," he said.

Labor senator Penny Wong said Ms Lambie had made her views clear before leaving the Senate, and that if the Coalition didn't honour these with a pair for a vote on the new corporation, it would reconsider its own pairing arrangements.

"I do not expect the government to behave like this in a chamber where conventions around pairing have always been honoured," she said.

Comment was sought from the Coalition, however Mr Fitzgibbon labelled the RIC as poor policy designed to buy votes in Calare, and urged the government to rethink its plan.

"The location of the RIC is a political fix and no objective process was undertaken in determining where to locate the RIC," he said.

Mr Joyce has previously said the government considered several regional cities for the agency, including Albury-Wodonga, Bathurst, Bendigo, Lithgow, Toowoomba and Wagga Wagga.

Labor says none of these locations were given the chance to fairly compete to host the corporation.

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