The Opposition has called for the scrapping of the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) planned to open in Orange this year.
Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon said the RIC had cost $28 million, was a “shocking, pork-barrelling exercise” and was already behind schedule.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the money would be better spent on providing subsidies for drought-affected farmers.
The RIC has been nicknamed the ‘Barnaby Bank’ after it was announced by then-Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce in Orange last year.
The RIC was to have started in July, with 30 staff administering $4 billion worth of concessional loans to the rural sector.
However, it is yet to select a site in Orange or appoint staff.
“With no CEO and no staff the RIC looks set to fail its first test, opening for business,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“Barnaby Joyce was committed to have it up and running on July 1. It’s very clear it’s hopelessly behind its timetable.
“The money would be better spent on direct drought assistance to farmers. There are a lot of things $28 million could be spent on, including direct drought assistance.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the RIC would be duplicating work already done by state rural adjustment authorities.
“It’s $28 million of taxpayers’ money spent that is going to be wasted,” he said.
“There is no policy rationale for the establishment of the RIC.
“I absolutely believe Orange was chosen because of the loss of that state seat [the 2016 Orange byelection].”
He said the RIC was not mentioned by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on his tour of drought-affected areas of NSW and Queensland this month.
“They’re not speaking its name anymore. The best thing the Prime Minister can do is stop the RIC boondoggle in its tracks before any more money is wasted.”
It is understood RIC board chair David Foster is due to visit Orange this week.
A RIC spokesman said the board was “considering property options” for the RIC office in Orange.
He said an acting CEO, Matt Ryan, had been appointed, while recruitment of a permanent CEO to be based in Orange continued.
“Recruitment of other permanent staff will proceed at the right time,” he said.
The spokesman said after selecting and fitting out offices and recruiting staff the RIC should be operating in Orange “sometime later this year.”