Federal Government’s Regional Investment Corporation program put in the spotlight for first time in five years

Aidan SmithCountryman
The RIC ACT 2018 is under review, providing farmers an opportunity to have their say on the Government loans program. Supplied
Camera IconThe RIC ACT 2018 is under review, providing farmers an opportunity to have their say on the Government loans program. Supplied Credit: istock

The Federal Government’s contentious concessional loans program for farmers and agribusinesses is open for public consultation for the first time since it was launched five years ago.

The Regional Investment Corporation Act 2018 review provides an opportunity for the public to put forward their views and suggestions on farming loans, until December 22, 2023.

Assistant Secretary Andrew O’Sullivan said the RIC provided concessional loans to farm businesses in financial need, and it was important that the system was working to the highest possible standards.

“Through the RIC, the Australian Government has more than $4 billion available for concessional loans to farm and farm-related small businesses,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt appointed Dr Wendy Craik AM to review the RIC Act, which will consider the scope of the RIC’s activities after June 30, 2026, and how the RIC should be governed after that date.

“This is the chance for farmers, business owners and other stakeholders to provide feedback on the RIC’s products and effectiveness, and what the RIC’s functions and governance arrangements should be into the future.”

Dr Craik’s report will be delivered to Minister Watt on or before July 1, 2024 and will be made publicly available after being provided to the Government.

RIC chief executive John Howard said the RIC Farm Loans Customer Insights Report 2023, released in November, highlighted that rising interest rates were the biggest concern for the 504 RIC customers that responded to the survey over the next five years, but 86 per cent agreed their RIC loan had given them greater confidence in the future of their farm.

Nationals leader David Littleproud.
Camera IconNationals leader David Littleproud. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

The Nationals leader David Littleproud said he feared the Albanese Government was looking to close the RIC down in its cost cutting, despite its important role in assisting farmers through challenging times.

He said since the RIC’s inception, more than $3.26 billion in concessional loans had been handed to about 3000 farm and small businesses across the country through the drought loan, AgBiz Drought Loan and AgriStarter loan.

“The RIC Act introduced by the former Coalition Government has seen many benefits, including the drought loan,” Mr Littleproud said.

“55 per cent of respondents in an RIC survey said they may not have been or could not have been still in business without the support of that loan product.

“The RIC’s mandate set its interest rate just to cover administration and borrowing costs and delivered immediate support for everything from buying fodder to transporting stock and agisting cattle, through to paying staff and managing cash flow.”

Mr Littleproud said an AgBiz Drought loan assisted small businesses that directly provided primary production related goods and services to farm businesses in drought-affected communities to access a loan of up to $500,000 for two-years interest free.

“There was unprecedented demand for the drought loan, with an additional $2b in loan funding given to the RIC, taking the total loan funding to $4.075b.”

To find out more visit haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au/ric-review

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