As a young organisation 2019-20 marked a year of growth for the RIC. Just as we began to establish our organisation and build our team, the drought continued to take hold of the eastern states of Australia. These conditions challenged our customers and demand for our loans quickly grew. As a result, we were left in no doubt of the value we offer to farm businesses across the nation.
During the reporting period, the RIC delivered its first disaster recovery loan, the AgRebuild Loan (North Qld flood), continued the delivery of our Farm Investment and Drought loans and launched our new AgBiz Drought Loan for small businesses supplying drought-affected farm businesses.
The announcement of a two-year interest-free period for the Drought Loan and the AgBiz Drought Loan in November 2019 was quickly followed by unprecedented demand for our loans. The 300 annual applications for which the RIC was initially resourced reached 300 a month at the peak. This demand presented many challenges as the team tried to keep pace and our loan processing timeframes extended as a result.
Over the past year the RIC did not receive any applications for the National Water Infrastructure Loans Facility but we continue working diligently to set up a framework for future project assessments and meet with potential applicants as they continue building their water infrastructure project business cases.
2019-2020 was also the year that COVID- 19 hit the nation and the world. Thanks to flexible work arrangements already in place and a cloud-based IT system, the RIC has been able to continue to operate throughout our COVID-19 response, with loan assessments and service delivery uninterrupted.
The RIC’s transformation project, to meet the future demand for its loans, will be crucial in 2020-21, made possible by additional $2 billion for farm loans this financial year and $50 million over four years for operational improvements, announced in July 2020 by the Australian Government. The additional funding will allow the RIC to increase our workforce and make system and process improvements to boost our efficiency and deliver on our commitments.
Following recommendations from the Auditor-General in response to an audit of the design and establishment of the RIC, risk management, performance reporting and strategies for compliance and assurance will be a focus in the coming year. Many of these efforts have already begun, I look forward to their progress over the coming 12 months.
A big thank you to the team at the RIC for their continued effort and contribution over the past year. Thank you also to the Board and our new Chair, Karen Smith-Pomeroy, for your guidance throughout the year. Together we have built an organisation that is focused on delivery, as we continue to provide loans to build a stronger regional Australia.