Consideration in Detail - Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF)

By Matt Keogh MP

09 November 2020

It is with great sorrow that I rise now to speak about the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and find that the Minister for Northern Australia has abandoned us this evening. But I'm very pleased to see that the portfolio minister has remained with us for over an hour now.

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility—or, as it's more often referred to by those in the sector, the no actual infrastructure fund—has been a farce from the beginning. It's a $5 billion fund created by this coalition government to finance the construction of job-generating infrastructure in Northern Australia—which sounds good when you read it like that—and it is required to consult with Infrastructure Australia before providing loans to any project valued more than $100 million. Well, it sounded good, but it took them more than 1,000 days after its creation in 2016 to refer a single major project to Infrastructure Australia for formal assessment. The people of Northern Australia need and deserve to have well-paid and secure jobs and the right infrastructure projects that will stimulate the investment needed to secure and sustain those jobs.

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility was due to expire next year, but still had $3 billion left unused, which has now seen the government have to extend the length of this facility out to 2026 because of the ineffectiveness of the facility to date. They are literally rewarding a lack of action. It was revealed in estimates that after five years of operation the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund has only released $218.4 million. That's less than five cents out of every dollar allocated to the facility. This no actual infrastructure fund of the government is the greatest example of all of how this government is focused solely on the headlines and not on delivery. The NAIF could be the perfect opportunity now to kick-start the COVID-19 recovery across northern Australia. There are so many resources projects that could already be underway across Western Australia if the NAIF got its act together. But we all know that this government much prefers to have talk than actual action.

After having concluded its fourth review in four years, more recommendations were made to fix it. In my consultations with industry, the key line from them was this: 'If you could qualify for funding through NAIF, you could already have got the money from a bank. This has been providing absolutely no benefit whatsoever.' There was a review in 2017 under Tony Shepherd going into the investment mandate governance relationship with the states and territories. In July 2018, the Senate Economics References Committee tabled their report on the governance and operations of the NAIF. In 2019, the Auditor-General released a report on the governance and integrity arrangements of the NAIF.

In the staff remuneration 2018-19 report, the NAIF claimed that they were running an independent review of NAIF's staff remuneration policy and associated practices. Finally, before the select committee on 7 August 2020, the CEO admitted that staff bonuses were not based in any way on funding actually being released. Both the fund and its staff are actually being rewarded for no actual infrastructure. There is nothing connecting their outputs to what they're doing. The NAIF has been such a failure that they've had to extend its lifetime by another five years just to try to get the original funding out the door—and all of that at a cost of $62.1 million just to run it. How can the minister justify spending six times more on the administrative costs of extending the lifetime of this fund than the total amount that has been spent in Queensland through the fund over the last five years?