Senate debates

Monday, 7 December 2020


Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Australian Energy Market Operator, Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility; Order for the Production of Documents

6:20 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

In relation to the order for the production of documents listed in notice of motion No. 884 relating to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I don't want to talk too much on this issue. I have spoken about it previously. Senator Green, with my support, lodged a notice of motion last week on this topic seeking a copy of the review of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, also known as the NAIF, better known as the 'no actual infrastructure fund'. This is the $5 billion fund that was established by this government five years ago to fund projects and create jobs right across northern Australia. Five years on, we've seen that it has actually only spent $218 million. After five years, it has spent less than 5c in the dollar investing in projects across northern Australia and creating jobs across northern Australia. The NAIF was the centrepiece of the government's northern Australia agenda, which was launched five years ago. If there is any symbol of the failure of the government's northern Australia agenda and the fact that it has failed to live up to the expectations that were created, it is the NAIF. As we say often in this chamber, this Prime Minister and his government are very fond of making an announcement and very fond of getting a headline, but not quite so fond of actually following through and delivering. Again, the NAIF is a classic example of this.

I think everyone in northern Australia were really excited about the northern Australia agenda being launched by this government five years ago and were really excited about the possibilities that the NAIF had in store. But unfortunately, it hasn't come to pass. It is just another example of this government making a flashy announcement then running back to Canberra and never actually following through. That's why the opposition last week lodged this notice of motion seeking a copy of the NAIF review. For the fourth time in five years, the NAIF has been reviewed by this government. It's had reviews from the Auditor-General. It's had other reviews internal to government. This review undertaken over the last 12 months has been by the department as required under the NAIF's legislation. As people who have an interest in what's happening in northern Australia and why this government has failed to deliver, we are keen to see this review of the NAIF.

The government has already flagged that it intends to make a number of amendments to the NAIF legislation in the new year. What we know about those so far seems encouraging. We obviously have to wait and see the legislation. Last week, the Senate inquiry into the effectiveness of the northern Australia agenda handed down a unanimous report across all parties making a number of recommendations that we hope the government will pick up when it comes to amending the NAIF's legislation. It would be very helpful to the parliament in making its decision on whether to support the government's amendments if we could actually see the review of the NAIF. I think it'd be very helpful to people across northern Australia who want to understand why the NAIF has been such a dismal failure to actually see the review that the government has been conducting. Let's get to the bottom of why it is that, five years on, less than 5c in the dollar has been spent from the NAIF. Unfortunately, probably the only characteristic of this government that matches its enthusiasm for making announcements that aren't actually delivered is its tendency to be utterly secretive and to hold back information from the Australian public. That's what has happened again in relation to the NAIF review.

I see that the Minister representing the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, who is from South Australia, has entered the chamber. Perhaps she can enlighten us as to what the NAIF review has in place, or maybe her interest is primarily in South Australia rather than northern Australia. She and I often talk about this. It is very disappointing that the minister for northern Australia has written to Senator Ruston, as his representing minister, advising that he's not able to table the NAIF review today, as requested by the opposition. His reasoning is quite hard to understand. He goes on to say:

The statutory review of the … (NAIF) was initiated by my predecessor Senator the Hon Matt Canavan.

I'm not quite sure why that's relevant to the decision of this minister—the new minister—not to table the review. Is it that he needs Senator Canavan's permission to table the NAIF review? I actually thought it was Minister Pitt who was now the minister for northern Australia, not former minister Canavan. We're reading every day that Senator Canavan is pretty eager to get back on the frontbench and get back in the saddle, so I'm not sure whether that's what Minister Pitt is referring to here by saying that the review was initiated by his predecessor, Senator Canavan. I really don't understand why that's relevant.

It seems Mr Pitt's real reason for not tabling the review is that the review has not yet been finalised. He says:

The NAIF Act 2016 requires the final report—

by which I think he means the review—

to be tabled in Parliament within 15 days of finalisation.

He makes the usual excuse of the government that they haven't been able to finish it because of COVID, and says:

For this reason the timetable for the review was longer to ensure adequate time for consultation. Once finalised the NAIF review will be tabled in the Parliament.

I'm pleased that the minister has agreed that, at some future date, he will table the review into the NAIF, but I suppose I question why it is that the government are out there making announcements that they will amend the NAIF's legislation and change various things to do with the NAIF, when they haven't even completed the review, let alone been willing to actually table the review. I would have thought that if the government were serious about making changes to the NAIF, as they say they are, they would have actually finished the NAIF review. We could then see what it says. It turns out this NAIF review is ongoing. It must be one of the longest reviews that we've ever seen. I think we've all resigned ourselves to the fact that the NAIF will take, at current rates, about 116 years to spend its $5 billion budget. I can only hope that the NAIF review is not going to take that long as well. We certainly encourage the minister and his department to finish the NAIF review and table the NAIF review so that we can get on and understand what the problem with the NAIF is and exactly what it is we need to fix.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.


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