Mr ENTSCH: I rise in support of the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021.
The $5 billion Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility has certainly been a game changer for northern Australia.
It was great to see this coming out of our Pivot north report, as a recommendation for a funding stream—a report by the committee I chaired at the time.
However, I do concede that there have been some initial teething problems.
That’s why we have to bring these amendments on.
I notice that the member for Blair has left the chamber now—he wouldn’t understand this because Blair is well below us, in the south-east corner, so he’s not really talking about northern Australia.
He would need to concede something when he talks about cooperation: the Northern Territory government, a Labor government, has been very proactive in grabbing opportunities that the NAIF has presented and the Western Australian Labor government has also been quite proactive in grabbing opportunities.
But the Queensland state Labor government have been absolutely abysmal.
They have failed in every way.
They have dragged their feet and done everything they can to make sure that this program hasn’t been successful.
Unfortunately, as a direct result of that, we’ve lost out on so many different opportunities in relation to this.
What we’re doing now reflects on the lack of interest and cooperation by the Queensland government.
In the difficulties experienced by the Queensland government they’ve done everything they can to step in the way of really good projects and then used the fact that they haven’t got up as an excuse to throw some political barbs.
It’s very, very disappointing.
In the time the NAIF has been operating, the Morrison government has listened to stakeholders in the north and we’re making the necessary changes to ensure that the NAIF is more agile and adaptive to help drive the economic recovery.
As of 12 February 2021, the NAIF had made $2.8 billion in investment commitments.
These commitments are forecast to support 8,000 jobs and to generate around $6.6 billion in economic impact for northern Australia.
Fifteen projects, worth a total of $1 billion, have loan contracts in place, meaning that projects are underway and jobs are being created in the north.
There are around $2.9 billion worth of projects under due diligence and a further $3.3 billion in total projects that are active inquiries.
This demonstrates the level of demand for NAIF finance under the current policy settings.
Reforms are opening up equity investment and expanding the scope of projects, allowing the NAIF to enter on-lending partnerships.
This has expanded the pace of investment commitments and outflow of funds, and will continue to increase.
The benefits for the NAIF are already evident in my own electorate of Leichhardt.
NAIF investment will fund a new floating terminal for bauxite miners, Metro Mining, on the Skardon River in north-western Cape York.
A $47.5 million NAIF loan will allow the new infrastructure for the company to load larger vessels as part of its planned Bauxite Hills Mine stage 2 expansion project.
Prior to COVID there was a total workforce in the mine of around 200 people.
Around 30 per cent of that workforce were local Indigenous people, but, like many other businesses and companies across Australia, Metro Mining was hit hard by the global pandemic.
However, I understand mining operations will recommence in April this year, which is next month, with an initial workforce of 100 people, 27 per cent of whom are going to be Indigenous.
This investment will also have significant boosts for businesses in Cape York and the Far North, and more than 95 per cent of Metro’s mining supplies is coming from Far North Queensland.
I recently wrote to all the mayors in Cairns, Cape York and the Torres Strait, as well as the region’s advocacy bodies, to inform them of the proposed reforms and urge them to take advantage of the changes.
I want to touch on one major reform contained in the bill that I believe will supercharge the north, particularly as we emerge from the COVID pandemic.
The ability of the NAIF to lend directly to project proponents in certain circumstances will simplify the lending process and reduce the administrative burden.
While the states and the Territory governments remain important stakeholders for the NAIF, the ability to lend directly and bypass the states empowers the NAIF to bring projects to contractual close faster, so proponents can get on with creating jobs and developing the north.
This is one of the critical points, and I have to say that this is particularly focused at the lack of cooperation from Queensland.
This change also permits NAIF to establish on-lending partnerships and local financiers to improve access to NAIF finances on small projects—which is particularly important to further drive Indigenous led projects, which tend to be smaller in scale—and to improve access to NAIF finance for smaller First Nations businesses.
A lot of these businesses are much smaller than is provided for in the current guidelines, so it gives them an opportunity to capture the First Nations businesses.
Another reform contained in the bill that I believe will certainly be extremely beneficial is the expansion of eligibility for projects.
This reform will make NAIF finance available for additional elements of infrastructure construction, such as equipment leasing, training and expansion of existing businesses.
I know that, in the past, this has been a really major inhibitor for some businesses in being able to access a loan, and they will certainly welcome this.
This reform will ensure that NAIF can take a holistic approach to supporting economic growth.
NAIF will play a critical role in supporting the recovery of northern Australia from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadly, more often than not, those on the opposite side have been more interested in playing politics, and I’m referring here specifically to the Queensland state government attacking the good work that the NAIF is doing.
Never at any stage do they offer solutions, which is really no surprise.
I urge those opposite, particularly the shadow minister for northern Australia, to actually work with the government to help deliver real outcomes for the north, instead of only being interested in scoring a few points, and a few likes and retweets on Twitter.