Thursday, 13 May 2021
Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to support the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021. The NAIF has been an important vehicle for a number of Northern Territory enterprises, and I am advised that there are potentially another 50 proposals from the Northern Territory in the NAIF pipeline at the moment. In the Northern Territory, NAIF is providing nearly $700 million in loans through investment decisions and conditional approvals to infrastructure projects, supporting over 1,500 jobs. The Northern Territory projects supported by NAIF so far include: supporting economic growth through the funding of a new ship-lift facility in Darwin; expansion of facilities at Humpty Doo Barramundi, helping to grow the Northern Territory aquaculture industry; upgrades at Northern Territory airports to increase capacity and support export industries; and improved infrastructure at Connellan airport, operated by Voyages, supporting tourism for the Yulara region and supporting Indigenous enterprises. I want to talk about some of these projects in more detail shortly, but let me first turn to the amendments.
These amendments will help further turbocharge this government's investment program for northern Australia and make it easier for projects to receive funding and generate economic development and jobs, as the country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the 2020-21 budget, our government announced reforms to the NAIF to provide more flexibility, to increase risk appetite and to widen the scope of eligible projects. This is in addition to the 20 July announcement, which extended the NAIF's operation until 30 June 2026. The proposed reforms seek to address stakeholder criticisms of the NAIF, regarding it being risk-averse and not providing enough, and follow recommendations from the statutory review of the NAIF.
The following are the proposed amendments to the NAIF Act 2016. The time period in which NAIF can make investment decisions will be extended by five years, to 30 June 2026. Given that we have approximately 50 projects in the pipeline from the Northern Territory, this is an extremely important change from the Northern Territory's point of view. It will accelerate lending. The amendments will also allow NAIF to lend directly to proponents under certain circumstances.
This option for NAIF to lend directly to project proponents will simplify the lending process and reduce administrative burden. Currently all NAIF loans are made through the relevant state or territory jurisdictions. While the state and territory governments remain important stakeholders for NAIF, the ability to lend directly empowers the NAIF to move projects to contractual close faster, so projects can get on with creating jobs and developing the north—which is, after all, what this is all about. This change also permits the NAIF to establish on-lending partnerships with local financiers to improve access to NAIF finance for smaller project proponents. Those partners will have the expertise to work with smaller proponents to demonstrate their suitability for NAIF finance and will extend the NAIF's reach to those smaller projects that need added assistance in these economically challenging times.
I'd like you to note that the Select Committee on the Effectiveness of the Australian Government's Northern Australia Agenda, chaired by opposition shadow minister Murray Watt, recommended that the reforms that were recommended by the statutory review be passed by the parliament as a priority in 2021. Other relevant info on NAIF's investment includes that total NAIF investment is now at approximately $2.9 billion. This $2.9 billion is generating $9.4 billion in economic benefit across northern Australia, including a forecast of more than 9,000 jobs. In Queensland more than $1 billion has been committed across 10 projects. In Western Australia more than $1.1 billion has been committed across eight projects. In the Northern Territory more than $697 million has been committed across seven projects.
This government in general is investing $9.3 million over the next five years, from 2021-22, to pilot regions of growth in northern Australian locations. These pilot regions are: mine and produce to port, Mount Isa to Townsville; agriculture, aquaculture and manufacturing precinct, Cairns to Gladstone; strategic gas basin, Beetaloo Basin to Darwin Port; and north-west agriculture corridor, Broome to Kununurra to Darwin. We're also improving digital connectivity, with $68.5 million for a dedicated northern Australia round of the Regional Connectivity Program and the Mobile Black Spot Program, including $41.4 million for the Regional Connectivity Program and $25.1 million for the Mobile Black Spot Program.
The government is investing $111.9 million to support northern Australian businesses to scale up and diversify by providing co-investment grants to businesses for activities including infrastructure, assets, feasibility studies and business planning. The investment will be supported by a 'strengthening northern Australia' Business Advisory Service. This shows the commitment of this government, our side of politics, to those of us who choose to live, work and contribute to Australia's economy in the north.
Again, let me go over what this bill is doing for the NAIF. It is going to extend the investment period for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility by five years, which is important for those 50 projects in the Northern Territory that are in the pipeline and whose survival will depend on investment. It will expand the functions of the NAIF to include the provision of financial assistance to projects that contribute to northern Australia's economic and population growth and it will amend certain governance and administrative processes of the NAIF.
Let me mention some of the projects that the NAIF has enabled so far. One of my personal favourites is Humpty Doo Barramundi, a family owned business. Bob and Dan Richards are two of my favourite human beings in the Northern Territory. The story of Humpty Doo Barramundi is rapidly becoming one of the great success stories of the Northern Territory. As I mentioned, Bob Richards and his son, Dan Richards, have been driving this project for the past 28 years. In fact, Bob likes to say to everyone who will stand and listen that he is an overnight success story that was 28 years in the making. Humpty Doo Barramundi is 100 per cent Australian family owned and operated, from a farm located halfway between Darwin and Kakadu National Park. Since 1993, they have farmed premium saltwater barramundi on the Adelaide River. I think it's fair to say that the Northern Territory is the spiritual home of the barramundi.
Humpty Doo Barra is on a journey that began as a pioneering barra farm back in 1993. The annual harvest has grown from 300 kilograms in its first year of sales to over 3,000 tonnes of barra per year today. The success of this business has been through trial and failure followed by improved processes of research, trial and error and passion from a unique team of people. This has led to recognition as a premium producer of great-quality farmed barramundi. These guys have set themselves the target of becoming a world-leading barramundi farm, utilising technological advancement, with increased opportunities for training and employment in northern Australia in aquaculture, one of the world's fastest-growing industries.
Let me tell you this about them: when COVID struck last year and restaurants all around Australia closed down, they were struck extremely hard, with no outlet for their produce. This didn't deter them. They set out to develop other markets, which they did. This included selling through supermarket chains, something that they hadn't done before. During this period, which was extremely tough for the family, they did not lay off or cut back the hours of any of their employees. They care for their employees. They are passionate about what they do, and they managed to keep their business running through what were extremely trying and difficult times.
How does this fit in with NAIF? As I've said, these guys were helped by NAIF and probably wouldn't be where they are today without investment from NAIF. They received a NAIF loan—the first NAIF loan—of $7 million in 2018. This was also matched by the ANZ bank. The result of that loan saw the business successfully deliver increased capacity for barra aquaculture at their farm and increased employment, as well as a new hi-tech nursery facility, introducing a higher level of care for the fingerlings, the baby barra, before they enter the grow-out ponds. Then these guys at Humpty Doo Barra invested a further $48.4 million in aquaculture infrastructure with a new loan through NAIF, matched again by funds that were loaned through the ANZ bank. Dan said at the time:
This loan will take us further down the path of making Australia self-sufficient in saltwater Barramundi production, plus secure our supply of Barramundi through a purpose built Barramundi hatchery.
National Barramundi Day is the perfect day to announce this huge boost to Australian Barramundi aquaculture.
As Australia's iconic fish, demand for quality, Australian saltwater Barramundi is growing. We aim to meet that demand through improving our facilities to provide the best growing conditions, leading to a healthy, great-tasting fish.
The minister for northern Australia said:
The NAIF loan, alongside private bank co-funding, will support the construction of a purpose built hatchery for saltwater barramundi that will provide a significant boost to the Northern Territory's aquaculture industry and generate economic activity in the Territory as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This latest round of funding through NAIF will support around 110 jobs during the construction phase and a further 160 jobs when the new hatchery is up and running. 'NAIF support will ensure Australian farmed barramundi will be available in restaurants and at home and around the world,' Minister Keith Pitt said at the time.
This is the type of facilitation that NAIF provides, and it is why it is so important to the Northern Territory. A hundred and sixty extra jobs may not sound like much, but, in the Northern Territory, where we have a very small population, it is extremely significant—as is the income generated by the export of farmed barramundi around Australia and, potentially, around the world. This is the sort of life-changing economic support that NAIF can produce across northern Australia, where it is so vitally needed. I commend this bill to the Senate.