THE announcement that Orange would be made the home of the government's new regional investment agency was a welcome boost to the city’s – and Central West’s – economy.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was flanked by Calare MP Andrew Gee as he made the announcement on Tuesday, but it wasn’t long before the accusations of pork barrelling went flying.
After Orange emerged as the base for the Regional Investment Corporation, designed to oversee delivery of funds to farmers, eyebrows were raised.
The city is at the heart of an electorate the Nationals lost in a state by-election last November after a 69-year hold on power, drawing legitimate questions about the reasons behind the government's decision to host the agency there.
After the controversial decision to uproot the national pesticides authority from Canberra to Armidale [in Mr Joyce's electorate], the public would be justified in being cynical about the underlying motives of the Nationals' decentralisation agenda.
Whether it's a legitimate attempt to revitalise struggling country towns, or a ploy to shore up votes against One Nation and the Member for Orange Phil Donato’s Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, is cast into doubt when uncertainty shrouds the steps taken to choose the cities hosting government agencies.
Among the few cities the Coalition decided were eligible to host the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, is it only a coincidence that Mr Joyce's electorate emerged the winner?
Why was Orange judged a better host for a national regional investment agency, compared to Bathurst, Lithgow or Wagga Wagga? The framework used by the government to decide isn't clear, considering Mr Joyce's office could not describe one when asked on Tuesday.
It's an unjustifiably opaque process given the substantial public spending involved - $28 million for the RIC - and the considerable benefits the host city stands to gain.
Rivals to Orange's claim on the agency, including Bathurst, deserve to know where they fell down in the selection process.
The uncertainty around the government's decisions about smaller agencies needs resolving if it seriously intends to prosecute its case for decentralisation.
Apparently the federal Nationals see all regional centres as equals, though some are more equal than others.