NAIF reaffirms support for CQ infrastructure projects
FOUR years since its inception, the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has come under heavy criticism for the rate that money is being spent and for not yet handing over money to a Central Queensland project.
Seeking to reaffirm its commitment to the region, both a spokesperson for the NAIF and the Minster for Northern Australia who oversees the loan facility, Keith Pitt, have responded to the criticism from Labor, explaining how the group intended to get the money flowing.
While bound by commercial confidentiality considerations, a NAIF spokesperson alluded to an arrangement being in the works to support projects like the Great Keppel Island rejuvenation and resort development.
“NAIF welcomes interest from proponents across a range of sectors. As projects are received, they are assessed against NAIF’s mandatory criteria,” the spokesperson said.
“NAIF has discussed the Great Keppel Island project with the proponent and we are happy to continue talking to those behind the project and other stakeholders.”
In the Central Queensland region, the spokesperson said good progress was being made on NAIF’s loan to the Signature Onfarm project in Clermont which recently reached contractual close.
“This project will create 200 construction jobs and 70 ongoing jobs once complete, bringing significant economic benefits to the region,” they said.
“Reaching contractual close is an important milestone for the project and is the first project in Central Queensland to reach this stage.
“We thank the Queensland Government for their co-operation in signing off on the documents. This Signature Onfarm project is an example of how NAIF can support sectors such as agriculture in these difficult times.”
According to the spokesperson, under NAIF facilities, proponents request drawdown of loans facilities as required for construction activities on their respective projects.
It was common that the proponents would spend their own money first and then draw down their loan.
The timing of this was controlled by proponents and was not a matter that NAIF could influence.
“NAIF has an exciting pipeline of projects in Queensland and expects to be making more announcements about these shortly,” the NAIF spokesperson said.
“In Queensland as a whole, NAIF is providing $915m in loans through Investment Decisions and conditional approvals to infrastructure projects, supporting over 2200 jobs.
“We are continuing to work with other proponents and projects in the region and look forward to continuing to work with the Queensland Government so NAIF funds can flow to the region as quickly as possible.”
An outspoken critic of the NAIF, Labor’s Queensland Senator Murray Watt, quoted new figures released to a Senate inquiry revealing the Federal Government would take nearly 150 years to spend NAIF’s $5 billion war chest at its present spending rate.
“More than five years after it was launched, only $1.7 million, or 0.034 per cent of the NAIF’s $5 billion budget has been spent in Queensland,” Senator Watt said.
“No funds have been released for Queensland projects in at least six months.
“In total, only $169.2 million, or 3.4 per cent of the NAIF’s $5 billion, has been released for projects across Northern Australia. This equates to less than $34 million in spending for each of the NAIF’s five years.”
Mr Watt was outraged by an analysis of the NAIF’s annual reports and Questions on Notice which showed more than $33 million, nearly the same amount released for projects yearly, had been spent on executive and staff salaries, office space, travel for board directors, advertising and more over the duration of the NAIF.
He took issue with NAIF executive bonuses not being linked to the amount of funds actually released providing “no financial incentive whatsoever to get money out the door”.
Senator Watt called on new Minister Keith Pitt to make immediate changes to unlock NAIF’s funds to get Central Queensland projects like those on GKI started.
Mr Pitt accused Labor of showing no commitment to regional Australia when it was in government so it was ridiculous for them to question the role of NAIF.
He said about $2 billion had been committed to projects across the north, including a beef abattoir, student accommodation and a hospital car park in Queensland, where proponents drew down money as they required it, which was “the usual practice” when providing loans.
Last month he announced the NAIF would be extended for another five years to support job-creating projects that generated economic activity.
“As part of a statutory review, I am looking to make the NAIF more agile and flexible to support a wider range of projects throughout the north, particularly to assist with the post-COVID-19 economic recovery,” Mr Pitt said.
“There is a pipeline of projects from across the north, including Central Queensland, that are before the independent NAIF.
“Apart from that, the many federally-funded major infrastructure projects involving roads and highways, that are the result of local member Michelle Landry’s strong campaigning, are supporting local jobs and economic growth at this important time.”
The NAIF spokesperson said they were conscious of ensuring careful stewardship of taxpayer funds.
“Bonuses in previous years have been paid based on the meeting of organisational and individual Key Performance Indicators,” they said.