Monday, 2 May 2016
Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016, Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2016; In Committee
The government will not be supporting this amendment moved by the Greens. I should foreshadow that the reasons for the government opposing this amendment will relate similarly to other Green amendments that are to be moved in this debate.
Fundamentally, this bill is about providing infrastructure and investing in infrastructure in Northern Australia. By definition, the types of infrastructure are used by multiple users or indeed multiple industries The kinds of infrastructure that we have foreshadowed that this facility could fund include ports, airports, rail lines and water infrastructure. Of course, at various points, the resources industry in northern Australia—along with other industries—will be a significant user of ports, airports, water infrastructure and the like, and it would be nonsensical to exclude a very important industry, the resources industry, from using that infrastructure, because it would undermine the objectives of this act. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that, if we excluded the fossil fuel industry or the resources industry broadly from using infrastructure funded by this facility, we would effectively handicap this bill completely, and it would be very hard to find a piece of infrastructure in northern Australia that would not at some point be used by the resources industry.
Given that the resources industry accounts for more than 50 per cent of the gross value added in northern Australia, it is a very significant industry, and I am sure that most—not all, but the vast majority—of the major infrastructure that this facility is looking to fund would need to be used by the resources sector as well as other industries to make it economic. Indeed, one of the reasons that the government has stated that we need something like this is that the population is sparse in the north and therefore financing and funding the high fixed costs of infrastructure across a small population base is very challenging. It would only be made more challenging if the Greens' amendment were to succeed. Effectively, the fossil fuel industry could not contribute to the financing of infrastructure in northern Australia and you would not build much. That would also be the case for a lot of infrastructure in parts of southern Australia as well.
The second point I would like to make about the Greens' amendment—and, again, this is a point that could be made about various other amendments the Greens are seeking to move—is that they are seeking to impose a level of requirements and obligations on infrastructure in northern Australia that do not exist for government financing of infrastructure in southern or other parts of Australia, including northern Australia, under a different facility. For example, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—which the Greens were integral in establishing—does not specifically exclude investments in fossil fuels, like the Greens are attempting to do here. So it is unclear why they would be seeking to impose this obligation on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and not on other facilities, very similar facilities, that they have supported in the past. Indeed, the government has explicitly based a lot of the legislation and the draft investment mandate here on the example of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation as well as other similar infrastructure funds overseas.
So, for those reasons the government will not be supporting this amendment, as it will, in my view, undermine the objectives of this bill. There is no need to specifically exclude industries. Indeed, doing so would undermine the ability to finance commercial and functional infrastructure in the north.