Senate debates

Thursday, 13 May 2021


Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading

10:12 am

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, Senator Hanson and I are passionate about developing the northern part of our country. The 2015 government white paper clearly articulated the unique challenges facing our north. It's a no-brainer. Consider these things: long distances; highly variable weather, with more extreme weather in cyclones; services; shortage of services; and reliable and accessible infrastructure—which we simply take for granted here in the south. There are no economies of scale in the north, and they have smaller populations and plenty of communications blackouts.

In spite of the best intentions, a big pot of money and all the knowledge required to develop a robust fit-for-purpose infrastructure fund to meet the needs of the north, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has not been fit for purpose. As a member of the Select Committee on the effectiveness of the Australian Government’s Northern Australia agenda, I repeatedly felt disappointed to hear witnesses across northern Australia stating that getting money from NAIF was impossible.

Northern Australia is operating from a lower base than in the south. The foundational pieces that we take for granted here in the south—all-weather road access, reliable internet and access to a skilled workforce and highly qualified professionals, be they in the trades, engineering or medicine—are not readily available across northern Australia.

NAIF needed to be adding value to northern development at a grassroots level, yet missed that target altogether. It's significant that, for a 20-year development horizon, the first five years have been far from optimal. We welcome the changes included in this legislation, but the ground lost during the last five years was an unnecessary opportunity cost and loss of momentum. The government had all the information it needed to have made better decisions from the start.

A more accessible NAIF is not the only element, though, that needs to be addressed. It's ironic that the issues that need addressing to facilitate development in the north are systematically being dismantled in the south due to atrocious federal and state governments. For example, energy, land tenure and water access and price are severe problems and hurdles in the north. How the hell can these be addressed and solved with policies currently destroying energy, destroying water access and raising water prices, and destroying land tenure in the south? The problems in the north cannot be solved with these destructive policies.

It's wonderful to have NAIF improved, but we need to get the governance in this country fixed. The core issue suppressing development in the north is atrocious state and federal governance. People, their talents and resources are being suffocated under the stifling morass of bureaucracy inherent in the interference, overlap and duplication of government agencies, state and federal. Until this poor governance is addressed, the good work that NAIF can bring will be diluted and development in the north will remain painfully slow, to the whole country's detriment.

I look forward to the next review to see how quickly and effectively this last $2.5 billion brings northern Australia along with the rest of the country. We will be support being this bill, especially given the deadline of 30 June for the changes, and we will be closely scrutinising all amendments. We will not be supporting racially based amendments. We will improve assistance to the people in the north, and I point out some of the comments in my dissenting report to the Northern Australia agenda inquiry. We will be balanced and measured, but we will always ensure responsibility is with the right people.

10:16 am

Photo of Sam McMahonSam McMahon (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

He said:

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.

10:31 am

Photo of Patrick DodsonPatrick Dodson (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Reconciliation) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021. There is no doubt that the NAIF is in need of urgent reform. Its operation over the last six years is indicative of the failure of this government to deliver, especially for the people of northern Australia. It is symbolic of the pattern of announcements without follow-up or follow-through that has become the hallmark of this government.

As my colleagues who have spoken before me have highlighted, by October last year the NAIF had released only $218.4 million of its $5 billion budget—$218.4 million out of a $5 billion budget. Fewer than 10 projects have begun or completed construction. Only two First Nations projects have received NAIF support, and communities in northern Australia, particularly First Nations communities, are calling out for investment, and not just any investment but investment that is smart and sustainable, and investment that encourages prosperity without destroying culture, land and resources for future generations—in other words, a balanced approach to development. The NAIF represents an opportunity to achieve these goals, but it has fallen far short of that expectation to date.

I had the privilege of being part of the Senate select committee investigating the effectiveness of the government's northern Australia agenda, which was chaired by my colleague Senator Watt and has recently handed down its final report—and I recommend the report to all in this chamber. The committee spent two years investigating the impact of government policies across communities in the north, including the NAIF itself. Despite being hampered by COVID-19, the committee travelled to Cairns, Townsville, Thursday Island, Darwin and Nhulunbuy, and we heard video evidence from many more other places across the north, including my home community of Broome. We heard from community groups, entrepreneurs, local governments, chambers of commerce and First Nations organisations about the challenges facing northern Australia. And what was our conclusion? It was that this government is stuck in the slow lane when it comes to northern Australia. There are no roaring engines going forward here. The failures in relation to the NAIF are just one example of promises not being delivered.

The committee's interim report reflected that, while there is support for the idea of NAIF, the reality has been profoundly disappointing. We've heard numerous criticisms about the complexity of the application process for NAIF funding. The administrative burden of applications is considerable, and it is no surprise that this has stymied First Nations projects most of all. The NAIF is simply not accessible for many First Nations entrepreneurs and organisations. Evidence submitted to the committee highlighted the many barriers faced by First Nations seeking to access NAIF funding, from the lack of liquidity equity to the inability to afford administrative costs and lack of credit history. This means that northern Australia is not benefiting from the innovative development led by First Nations. It also means that First Nations peoples are being left behind, despite the burgeoning wealth of some in the region. The committee received a report by Professor John Taylor, who studied the impact of the mining boom on social indicators for the Pilbara Aboriginal people. His research found that 'in many respects, outcomes are worse now than they were before the mining boom'. As representatives of the eight traditional owner groups in the Pilbara noted 'there has been a failure to "raise all boats" on the back of massive government and private sector investment in the region'. This will not improve without better engagement with First Nations peoples.

As we debate this bill, it is important to note the extent of the First Nations presence in northern Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up approximately 15 per cent of the population of northern Australia and over 25 per cent of the Northern Territory population. The First Nations land tenure covers a vast proportion of the northern Australian land mass: 66 per cent of northern Queensland, 80 per cent of the Northern Territory and 94 per cent of Western Australia. Given this context, it is unthinkable that the future of northern Australia could be charted without the involvement of First Nations peoples. The government's white paper on developing northern Australia acknowledged that 'developing the north will need to be in full partnership with Indigenous Australians'. But this government has demonstrated again and again that it does not understand the concept of partnership with First Nations. Defenders of the NAIF's current structures point to the procurement and employment opportunities for First Nations peoples arising from the NAIF funded projects. While these opportunities should undoubtedly be strengthened, they are poor substitutes for First Nations being able to control and direct projects in their own right and a poor substitute for being assured a seat at the NAIF decision-making table.

This bill includes a number of amendments that federal Labor has called for for many years. We hope it marks a step in the right direction, but we also think we can do better to ensure both that First Nations people are truly benefiting from the NAIF and that the projects it funds are sustainable in the age of changing climate. To this end Labor will move a number of important amendments to the bill, which my colleague Senator Watt has outlined. One of these amendments would ensure that there is a First Nations member on the board of the NAIF. The government's current proposal is to add experience in economic development in Indigenous communities—that's the category—to the list of experts sought for the NAIF board. This is simply too weak. We must relegate to history the days when others speak for First Nations, particularly as they are property owners. I've outlined the amount of property they have in northern Australia. Labor's amendments are simple measures that would mean that First Nations peoples are assured a seat on the NAIF decision-making table. That is consistent with similar requirements that apply to a range of other federal bodies, including the Australian Heritage Council and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Valid concerns have also been raised about the effects of this bill on the north Australian environment, particularly whether projects funded by the NAIF will help or hinder us in addressing the serious impacts of climate change. Bear in mind that First Nations peoples in the north are likely to experience the brunt of harmful climate change or any other form of pollution of their lands and waters. We are already seeing these impacts across our communities, and nowhere more stark than in the Torres Strait.

The government's action has eroded any trust that they will be doing the right thing when it comes to managing the necessary transition to clean energy. We saw that in the extraordinary decision of Minister Pitt just last week to veto NAIF funding to the carbon and wind farm near Cairns, against the express recommendations of the fund. So Labor will be moving amendments to ensure that the minister cannot allocate funding in a way that is inconsistent with Australia's achievement of net zero emissions by 2020. These and other Labor amendments are straightforward, sensible proposals that will make this legislation better. I urge the government and all in this chamber to support them.

There is considerable beauty and potential in northern Australia; much of it is fragile and unique. This time of the year is one of the best times of the year in northern Australia. Let me tell you: I look forward to going home to Broome next week. Much of its manifestation is in the richness of the First Nations cultures, its languages, its knowledge, its relationship to the land and its willingness to share some of that, if you don't destroy it. The NAIF could be a vehicle to harness this potential for the benefit of the whole of Australia. But it is currently failing to do so. It's up to the government and Minister Keith Pitt to deliver on the promise of the NAIF. This bill represents a second chance. Those of us on this side of the chamber will be watching this closely, and we will also be listening continuously to hear how people in the north are benefiting from the actual release of funds rather than its promises.

10:43 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund is already a failed slush fund. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 is only going to make it worse. It's such a pity. Infrastructure is so critical, and appropriate development of northern Australia is so critical. There are such opportunities for ecologically appropriate, socially appropriate, economically appropriate development to occur in northern Australia. In a better world with a better government we would be able to set up processes to facilitate, encourage and support that type of ecologically, socially and economically appropriate development. But the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund is not the vehicle to do that. It has already been shown to be a failure. It is already not directing investment to where it should be directed, and it is clear, from the amendments to the act that are being put forward in this bill, that it is only going to get worse. Rather than having a facility that ensures that investment goes to appropriate developments, this is going to set it up as a slush fund for the government to fund their mates, to invest in the most inappropriate developments.

Essentially, the government are climate denialists. We are in a climate crisis. The world is in a climate crisis. The No. 1 global priority needs to be to work out how we, as a global community, shift out of burning polluting coal, gas and oil. Governments all around the world are tackling this big problem. Governments all around the world are committing themselves to working in the interests of the globe by urgently slashing carbon pollution to zero as quickly as possible—but not this government. This government, in this bill today, is saying that it wants to provide 'flexibility' to deliver for the Northern Territory and northern Australia. But, translated, what this means is that this government wants to deliver for its mates, the big fossil fuel companies.

This isn't just something that the Greens have thought up. It's very clear, from the statements that the minister has already made, what he wants to see the NAIF being used for. Keith Pitt, the resources minister, as we know, is a climate denialist; he does not understand, support and accept the reality of climate change and climate change science. He wants to see the NAIF doing things like opening up more opportunities for the Beetaloo infrastructure financing. That is just going to be a total carbon bomb, as well as destroying huge amounts of wonderful Northern Territory landscape. The amount of carbon that fracking the Beetaloo basin will release is, on its own, going to significantly increase carbon pollution globally. This is exactly the sort of development that should not be going ahead. It's exactly the sort of development, though, that this government wants to see funded under the NAIF. With infrastructure, as I said, we really have the opportunity to support the transition to a zero carbon, ecologically sustainable, socially sustainable economy, and that's what the NAIF could be, but it's what the NAIF is not.

I want to go through some of the problems with this bill. There are four, basically. The first of the problems is that it's actually going against everything that this place is saying needs to happen, in terms of facilities like this: to maintain the independence and the ability of an organisation like the NAIF to make decisions on the basis of good information from the people who are advising them. Requiring the secretary of the department to be a member of the NAIF board is actually going to increase ministerial influence.

We've already seen that this minister has got form in terms of influence. We have had, in recent times, the minister, extraordinarily, exercising his ministerial veto to stop a project that the NAIF board had recommended. The NAIF board had recommended, in fact, the sort of project of which we, as Greens, say, 'Yes—this is the sort of infrastructure that government should have a role in, to help our transition to a zero carbon economy.' It was a wind farm that was going to be supported by a battery. It was going to create 250 jobs. It was exactly the sort of infrastructure that we need to be seeing here. There are massive opportunities in Australia for this sort of renewable energy infrastructure. Why did the minister exercise his ability to block this project? The only way you could see for the minister to decide to do this was on sheer ideological stubbornness, really, because here you had the board recommending this investment in a wind farm with a battery, and the minister, when asked about it, could not even bring himself to say the word 'battery'. He could not even accept that batteries actually might be the way of the future. We keep on hearing from the government side of politics: 'There are problems with the renewables. What happens when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow?' There are actually answers to that, and batteries are a huge part of the answer to that. You invest in a wind farm and a battery—

Senator Canavan interjecting

Coal—exactly! Senator Canavan, I will take the interjection, because Senator Canavan has only just walked in the chamber and has actually missed the beginning of my speech when I have been talking about the need to transition to a zero carbon economy. And, sadly, maybe Senator Canavan doesn't realise that coal is carbon. Maybe he doesn't realise that the mining, the burning and the export of coal results in carbon emissions going up into the atmosphere. It's actually the sort of thing that we need to be avoiding. It's the sort of thing where around the world countries are saying, 'Sorry, Australia, we're not going to want your coal in the future, because of the amount of carbon pollution.' Other countries are recognising that the world is on a precipice, that we are facing an existential crisis because of our climate crisis, because of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Yet we have this government that is ideologically committed to delivering for their mates, to delivering for billionaires, to delivering for the big mining companies and not just continuing but expanding the burning of fossil fuels, expanding the burning of coal, expanding the fracking of our country and the burning of gas. That's exactly the direction that we just cannot afford to be heading in.

Going back to the problems with this bill, the first one is removing the independence, but the second one is removing the veto right of states and territories. Again, we're in a situation where the only way our carbon pollution is not worse than it is at the moment in Australia is because some of our states and territories are actually recognising that we need to cut our carbon pollution. Some of our states and territories are getting on board with that, and they have got far more ambitious targets for cutting carbon pollution than the federal government has, so in fact there is the potential for the governments of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland to actually be listening to the science, listening to their communities and saying: 'We don't want these fossil fuel projects. We don't want the Adani coalmine, because it's going to be a carbon bomb. We don't want the fracking of the Beetaloo Basin, because it's going to be a carbon bomb.' This is what state governments should have the ability to say in the interests of their community and of their state or territory and in the interests of the world, to say that these fossil fuel projects should not go ahead. But no. This government is saying, 'We're going to remove the right of states and territories to actually have that say, that these projects shouldn't be going ahead.'

The third thing that this bill does which is a problem is it expands the funding mechanisms to get into riskier developments, and that's important, because we know that if you look at the risk of investing in fossil fuel projects they are incredibly risky, they are likely to be stranded assets in the future—so actually investing in investments that are not only problematic climate-wise but also problematic economically. But these measures in this bill would say: 'Forget about that. We're going to allow you to invest in riskier investments.' Again, it's in order to suit their ideological position, in order to suit the business interests of their mates, in order to suit the business interests of the big mining billionaires.

The fourth problem of this bill is of course it extends the NAIF for another five years, which means that all of these things can just go on for longer. Rather than coming to an end and rethinking what sort of investment mechanism you should have for investing in clean, green, economically and socially appropriate infrastructure—no!—we're going to get another five years of this climate-denialist, carbon-polluting, big-business-supporting approach.

What do we do about it? We've got a number of amendments that the Greens are putting up, and I know there are a number of amendments that the Labor Party is putting up as well, that are basically saying, 'Well, you could have a NAIF that would work better, that we could shift to be actually delivering appropriately.' So I foreshadow that I am going to move a second reading amendment, which I really hope will get the support of the Senate, that says:

At the end of the motion, add: ", but the Senate is of the view that no public money should be invested in coal, gas or oil projects".

Given that the world's in a climate crisis, given that we know we must slash our carbon pollution and given that we know the science is saying we need to have at least a 75 per cent reduction in our carbon pollution by 2030 to have a hope of tackling the existential threat of the climate crisis, I think that's a reasonable measure. It's not saying, 'Close down every fossil fuel project in the country'; it's just saying: 'Don't invest in any more. Don't add to the problem.' We've already got a massive problem here in Australia with the amount of coal, gas and oil that we are mining, burning and exporting. This second reading amendment basically says, 'Just don't make the problem worse.'

We need to cut our carbon pollution. I will keep on saying it because it is an existential threat that the world is under. Look at the Black Summer fires. Fires like that will become more frequent, more intense, more extreme and more widespread. Look at sea-level rises. A massive proportion of Australia's population lives within a couple of metres of the sea. A sea-level rise of one, two or three metres—tens of metres potentially, depending on how quickly the ice sheets melt—will have huge impacts on us. Look at the number of people who die in heatwaves. Look at the area of our country that is going to be unlivable. Look at the area of our country in which we're not going to be able to grow food. By the end of the century, we will not be able to grow wheat in virtually all of our wheat-growing areas. These are the realities of the climate crisis that this place needs to come to terms with.

The community have come to terms with it. The Australian community know that we should not be investing in fossil fuels, that we need to get out of coal, gas and oil as quickly as possible. But the government are just doubling down. Why? It's because of their billionaire mates, their big mining company mates, the people who have so much power in our society. They're not listening to the community, to the vast majority of Australians who want some leadership from government. The community want government to lead by saying: 'Yes, we know we have to get out of fossil fuels and this is how we're going to do it. We're going to have a transition and we're going to invest in infrastructure that helps that transition. We're going to invest in wind farms with batteries. We're going to invest in solar farms. We're going to invest in electric vehicles.' But, no, we've got this ideological denialism that insists we go backwards as a country. We are the pariahs of the world, the absolute laggards. Everyone else is getting on with it, even conservative governments. Why aren't we emulating the UK government's carbon targets? We've got far more potential renewable energy than the UK. But, no, we've got this commitment, which is expressed through this NAIF bill and has been expressed through the budget this week, to saying: 'We are just going to keep on keeping on. We're going to keep on digging up and burning coal. We're going to keep on digging up and burning gas. We're going to keep on with our dirty internal combustion engines.' It is such a travesty, such a backward way in which this government is operating, and it needs to change.

10:58 am

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great privilege to follow the Greens 'senator for northern Australia', Senator Rice, from inner-city Melbourne. It's an even better honour, though, to confirm the continuation of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. This facility was set up six years ago by the government for an initial five-year period. When this bill, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021, passes, we will extend that period for another five years. What is important about that is that it shows that the government—indeed, the Australian parliament—is in the north for the long haul.

We have great opportunities to develop northern Australia for the benefit of Australia, and it is going to take a long time. It was right and proper to set up a new and innovative facility like this for a limited time at first to see how it went. But it's great to see that it will continue its life, I believe, with the support of this chamber because to build the north we'll need to be there for the long haul. We need to work at this over many years, decades even, to really accomplish the creation of opportunities in and the potential of northern Australia. The NAIF, the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility, is being extended through this bill because it is working. It is delivering major projects that are creating jobs right across northern Australia and benefitting the whole country. It now has made nearly $3 billion worth of investments around the country.

Last week I saw firsthand the impact of these investments. I was at Beef Australia 2021, beef week, in Rockhampton, and there a company called Signature Beef had a stall run by Blair and Josie Angus. Signature Beef is a great Australian company. They are in the process of building a new meatworks near Moranbah in Central Queensland. It'll be one of the first meatworks opened in this country for decades and it will be smack bang in cattle country in the Fitzroy Basin. There are more cattle in the Fitzroy than in the whole of the Northern Territory. It will be a fantastic opportunity for graziers right through central and northern Queensland to have an alternative for their product to be processed, especially in a way that keeps their ownership of the product. They want to set up a facility that will do what are called 'service kills' to allow graziers to process and sell their own beef with their own brand on it when it comes out the other end. It is a great project. They had a video of the building being funded by the NAIF. It's almost complete; without holding them to it, it should be opened in August this year, and then 80 people will have a job at that facility in Central Queensland, giving an alternative opportunity for people to find work.

There's also the Kidston hydro project, which in the last couple of months has reached financial close. It's been a long process to get there, but that's a massively innovative project, costing almost $1 billion and creating hundreds of jobs in North Queensland. They are using an old gold mine to install a pumped hydro project which will help back up energy in North Queensland, a massive project also creating jobs and lower energy prices for North Queensland. There are other projects as well. Metro Mining is doing bauxite in Cape York. It will have substantial benefits for Indigenous Australians with employment in a mining industry there on the cape. One of the projects I'm most proud of, as a former northern Australia minister who ticked off on this, was the loan the NAIF has made to the Australian Aboriginal Mining Corporation. They are currently constructing Australia's first Aboriginal owned iron ore mine. It's a great outcome for our nation to see Indigenous Australians not just getting a job in the mining sector but also owning the mine itself: taking the business decisions, taking the risks, hopefully making the profits. Certainly, if the iron ore price stays where it is, they'll have no problem there. But they're making a go of it on their own land in their own country and building something for the long term for their peoples. That has been facilitated and come about thanks to the NAIF.

There's also the Kalium Lakes project providing the first production of phosphate products in a long time in Australia. It's producing a fertiliser that will help farmers to increase our food security, so we're not relying on imports. In the Northern Territory there have been fantastic projects at Humpty Doo. I think a barramundi farm there is going back for a second NAIF loan after the first one expanded its barramundi output. In Darwin itself there have been NAIF loans to expand the great port of Darwin, especially to help maintain more of our naval fleet in northern Australia. Further south in the Northern Territory there's been the investment in another Aboriginal corporation, Voyagers, to upgrade the airport near Ayers Rock, at Yulara, a fantastic initiative that will help attract tourists and grow their business. All these investments are making sense. They are creating jobs, they are building our nation and that is why it's important to extend the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility, so we can keep doing more of those things in the future.

The reason we should invest in northern Australia is not just for the people of northern Australia. Around six per cent of Australians, or just over a million Australians, live in northern Australia. Of course, it's important that they're looked after. They deserve to have money spent on nation-building initiatives in their part of the country. Just as we built the Murray-Darling, the Snowy scheme and the Kalgoorlie-Perth pipeline, we should also seek to have nation-building initiatives in northern Australia. It's important for those people, but it's also important for our nation, because the economic output of those six per cent of Australians—the just over a million Australians who live in northern Australia—represents around 12 per cent of our nation's output. So they punch above their weight. They actually produce double per person in terms of economic output than the average around Australia. That is because northern Australia is home to our nation's biggest exports. It is where more than half of our exports originate from.

More than half of the boats that leave our shores, making us money so that we can afford the things that we spent money on in the budget the other night, leave from northern Australia. Big iron ore vessels filled with red rocks from Western Australia help pay for public services. Those boats leave with lots of black rocks from Central Queensland, where I'm from, with the coal that helps us to pay the bills, making us the great nation that we are. Increasingly, big refrigerated boats that carry liquefied gas are helping to pay the bills for this nation. Of course, northern Australia is a powerhouse for our beef industry. There are plenty of grains and cotton produced in northern Australia. All of these products help our nation to pay its bills.

What does a good business do? A good business invests back into those parts of its business that make the money. If you sat down in the boardroom and said: 'Where should we put our capex to manage the budget for next year?' You'd probably look at the parts of your business, the lines of business, that are actually making a profit and making money. You'd say: 'Okay, let's put more into those areas.' That's why as a nation we should put more into northern Australia: you get bang for your buck. There is so much opportunity there to build more dams, to capture the water, to grow more food and to expand our mining industries—our coal, gas, iron ore. There is a massive demand for all of these products throughout the world, and we produce some of the highest quality minerals in the world. We should focus on those.

That brings me to the Greens senator for northern Australia—from Melbourne—Senator Rice. It's not surprising, perhaps, that a senator from Melbourne shows a complete misunderstanding—

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Waters?

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to clarify for Senator Canavan's benefit that I'm the representative of the Greens on these matters, and I happen to live in North Queensland—in northern Australia. He seems to be a bit confused. I know it will wreck his rhetoric. Sorry about that, mate, but get your facts right.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On the point of order, first of all, I wasn't referring to Senator Waters; I was referring to Senator Rice, who said in her contribution that she was going to move amendments to the northern Australia bill. So a Greens senator from Melbourne is going to tell us what to do in northern Australia. We've seen that before from the Greens, which I might come back to. Also, just to clarify for senators, Senator Waters does not live in northern Australia; she lives in Brisbane, Queensland. If she had actually read the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act 2016—she says, apparently, she's the representative for northern Australia—she would know there's a map that's referred to in that act and that Brisbane is not in northern Australia. It's about 600 kilometres south of Gladstone, which is where the border is on the coast of Queensland for northern Australia. So that's a little bit embarrassing for Senator Waters.

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Sterle, on the point of order?

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

I can't remember which part of the standing orders it is, but Senator Waters had clearly corrected the record, and Senator Canavan is being frivolous. I can't think what the actual wording is.

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Sterle. Senator Canavan, can I invite you to continue with your remarks and move the Senate forward.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's no wonder that Senator Sterle can't remember the point of order, because there is no point of order against frivolity. Frivolity! This place is a bit boring at times, so it's nice to have a little bit of fun.

As I mentioned, the Greens spokesperson for northern Australia, from Melbourne—that's not a point of order.

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Indeed. She wasn't seeking one, Senator Canavan.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, I just saw Senator Waters get up. The Greens spokesperson for northern Australia, from Melbourne, Senator Rice, said that we should not invest in fossil fuels in northern Australia because it's all bad, it's terrible, and it's going to blow up the planet if we continue to do these things. What she doesn't understand and doesn't mention is that half of the economy in northern Australia comes from mining—50 per cent. Half of the jobs, half of the income, half of the cash flow, half of the tax revenues that we all take, down here, come from the mining sector in northern Australia. So if you move an amendment here that cuts off a big part of the mining and resources sector, and I'm including LNG as part of mining there—just to clarify—and say, 'No, none of that can be invested in,' you are cutting off half of northern Australia and you are completely limiting the opportunities for our part of the world where I live in northern Australia to grow and develop, because we have enormous opportunities to grow and develop our mining sector even further. We have enormous opportunities to grow and develop the coal basins of North Queensland, because people want high-quality coal around the world, and we have it. We have enormous opportunities to continue the enormous trade in iron ore that we have going out of the west. We have enormous opportunities to continue exports of gas, especially in the Northern Territory, where our country's first shale gas field exists in the Beetaloo Basin. Wouldn't that be a great thing for Darwin? It is a great port, it has great access to the Asian region but it doesn't have cheap energy at the moment; that field offers that. Let's hope it is developed.

The problem is the NAIF did get off to a rocky start; there is no doubt about that. It is hitting its straps now but it got off to a rocky start. One of the reasons it got off to a rocky start was that the Labor Party teamed up with the Greens to stop the NAIF investing in the Adani Carmichael mine. That was going to be a big project for the NAIF. It could have built the rail line out to Adani, it could have been built to a bigger capacity than is currently being built, but the Labor Party, with Jackie Trad in Queensland, with Bill Shorten down here, with everybody supine over there on that Senate side, teamed up with the Greens to kill any investment in a new rail line out to a new coal basin, the first coal basin that would have been opened in 50 years; that was taken off the table. Thankfully, the Labor-Green alliance wasn't successful in killing the project overall. They were successful in killing the size of the project; the rail line is not as big as it could have been, thanks to them. We could have had more jobs going up there now, but for them.

Thankfully, the project is going forward, and the rail line is currently being built. Just the other day Adani did hit first coal at their Carmichael mine; although the coal seam they hit is not one they will mine. In a few months they will hit the coal seams they actually will mine, and later this year they will export the first coal from the first coal basin in 50 years from this country to another one, to India, and it will be a fantastic day for our nation. And it will be no thanks to any of those people here in this chamber in the Labor and the Greens parties; they actively tried to stop it. Thankfully, the Australian people rejected that at the last election, and we are getting those jobs. We have that mine and we are going to have future opportunity for northern Australia and North Queensland.

Now, I do need to say, though, thanks to one person—that is, former Greens Senator Bob Brown. He was of enormous assistance getting the Adani mine going. I was trying for years, banging my head up against the wall, pushing, fighting, begging for the project to proceed. Bob Brown turns up and, within weeks, the whole thing is going forward. He was a magician, an absolute magician. There is one particular amendment I would suggest the Greens move that I might consider supporting. If they want to put Bob Brown on the NAIF broad, I might support that, almost as an honorary position for Bob Brown to come on to the NAIF board for his work in helping create jobs in northern Australia, and we would love to see him more in the north. I would love to have him back. Unfortunately—I have invited him many times—he is not coming, apparently. He has blamed COVID; now it is gone. But maybe if he was on the NAIF board he would actually come and visit us a bit more. He would come up to the Beetaloo Basin and help Senator McCarthy get shale gas going in the Northern Territory. He would come up to the west Kimberley in Senator Sterle's area and help us get cotton farming going around Kununurra; he would hate that too. He would do magic. He would do wonders up there. We could get that moving.

There is so much opportunity across northern Australia and there are a lot of people from down south, like Senator Rice and others, who constantly want to downplay those opportunities, who often bring, can I say, a European mindset to our nation, where they think the north is hot and humid and infested with pests, and we should keep our population development down in the more sanguine Mediterranean climate of our south-east. But I think our nation's mission is actually to grow and develop across this great continent. It is great what we have done in cities like Melbourne and Sydney; they are fantastic testaments to what we have achieved as a nation. But we can actually build similarly successful and popular cities in other parts of our country as well, where there is plenty of water, where there are high-quality minerals, where there are high-quality soils to grow food in. If we invest in those areas, we won't maintain our position as a country where we are concentrated in just one small corner but we will spread, grow, develop and create the opportunity for thousands and millions more Australians, as we have done in the south.

11:14 am

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The NAIF needs a bold correction, and senators like Senator Canavan, who have drunk the Kool-Aid of mining companies across the country, certainly need a lesson in trying to understand where First Nations people are coming from and their need to be able to care for and look after country, culture and kin. It doesn't help when we think about the $5 billion. Just imagine what we could be doing with $5 billion to improve the lives of the most impoverished Australians and those Australians who live in northern Australia. How about opening up the opportunities to those northern Australians who would dearly love to be able to access that $5 billion to build better homes and to have employment strategies that are long term, consistent and enable people to provide for their families, without the kind of sarcasm that comes from members opposite, who so want to dwell on their mates, punishing and rubbishing the people of the north who do their best, in circumstances where, economically, they are not on the same level as those opposite?

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 is an important piece of legislation in terms of what it could do for Australians in the north. The NAIF needs a bold correction, because $5 billion is not something to sneer at, not something to wave in front of the most impoverished people in this country and say, 'Hey, look at what we've got, and you want this.' That is not what this discussion here in the Senate is about. There needs to be far greater responsibility and acknowledgement of the mistakes—and there have been plenty of mistakes on the five- or six-year journey of this northern Australia infrastructure fund, or, as my colleague Senator Murray Watt has termed it, the 'no actual infrastructure fund'.

It's in this government's DNA to make a big announcement and fall flat on delivery. Certainly the people of the Northern Territory can see that. Sure, I commend businesses like the Humpty Doo Barramundi fish farm. I had the opportunity to go out there and have a look. I think they are doing a terrific job, a wonderful job. They were doing that anyway, but they've certainly been assisted, as they rightly should be. And there are people who work at Voyages in Central Australia, First Nations people wanting opportunities in the hospitality industry, businesses in Central Australia, who desperately need tourism to do well for that part of the country. They shouldn't be laughed at and mocked for wanting to persevere in having access to $5 billion.

When the budget came down on Tuesday night, the people of the Northern Territory were told that budget 2021 would include an additional $150 million for the Northern Territory national network highway upgrades, for strengthening and widening, and $48 million for road safety projects. But none of this funding will hit the road in the coming financial year, and the Northern Territory will only see crumbs of the promised new roads infrastructure. But always there are strings attached to that kind of funding, aren't there, Madam Acting Deputy President, and, let me tell you, I will certainly be investigating those strings.

Ninety-nine per cent of new Northern Territory funding is beyond the forward estimates. Let me repeat that: 99 per cent of the Northern Territory funding—new moneys—is beyond the forward estimates, perhaps as much as three elections away. So, hello, what do we have here? An announcement and no delivery. An announcement specifically for a purpose: to either prepare for an election or bring about a great wedge amongst First Nations people who want to look after country. Our roads are on the never-never when it comes to this government. This will hold up vital development, jobs creation and a hope of new industries and economic development in remote regions.

What it also does is show what's missing here. What's missing is the genuine engagement with First Nations people across northern Australia. I know the NAIF and those board members on it will highlight the two projects that have been involving First Nations people. We talk about an Aboriginal mining company in Western Australia. I would like to know more about that relationship, but I want to see those First Nations groups who look after country and sea country—our rangers, our seafarers—have ability to engage in the NAIF and to access this $5 billion. Where is the support and encouragement for them? Why is it that there has to be a siloed view that what you take from country is the only thing that is good enough for NAIF? How about giving back? How about giving back not just with country but in terms of the cultural connection that First Nations people have with the different kinship groups right across northern Australia in the desire to be able to create a home and family life with access to funds that ordinary Australians, most Australians, have?

That is what I want to see with the bold correction that this NAIF requires—the bold correction of enabling First Nations people to be consulted and genuinely engaged, not come to at the last minute and asked to sign off on things simply because it suits whoever it is that might be pushing forward a particular development in northern Australia. We've seen far too many examples of that, and it's got to stop. Australia, it has to stop. First Nations people are made to feel that they come to the table when it suits those who are making the deals, and it has to stop. There has to be thorough engagement. In the Northern Territory, there are only one or two projects that have come through NAIF, and that is not good enough for the people of the Northern Territory. Five or six years of waiting. There cannot be another five or six years of waiting to come. Things have to change. Stop wasting the opportunity of the north.

The government's amendments here to the NAIF, when implemented, are supposed to be a step in the right direction, but people in the north have every right to be sceptical of promises made by this government. Last week it was revealed that Keith Pitt used his ministerial veto power to block funding to a NAIF approved renewable energy project in North Queensland. That project would have created 250 jobs and delivered cheaper, more reliable power for Cairns. It's just another example of this government neglecting the north.

In the Northern Territory, we have work going on into building one of the world's largest solar farms. The Sun Cable $22 billion project in the Barkly region includes a 10-gigawatt solar farm. It's a massive project and, if it proceeds to financial closure, it may be looking to the NAIF for financial support. But even that project still needs thorough investigation in terms of the relationships with First Nations people. And that's not to put that project down. It's actually about reminding all businesses right across the country that we, as First Nations people, mean business. And we would like, and need to be, respected in that process. We can't let the renewable energy dinosaurs on the other side veto another key project, which could drive so much development opportunity in northern Australia. There are also many smaller groups who want to use the natural resources of the wind and sun energy of the north. Let them do it. Encourage them. Provide an incentive within this program.

Labor will be moving a number of amendments to this legislation, one of which would remove Keith Pitt's veto power so he can't put a stop to any more job-creating projects in northern Australia. And also in a bid to encourage more investment in renewables, one of our amendments will allow the NAIF board to encourage projects that assist in achieving net zero emissions by 2050. We would also require for-profit private sector projects to meet a rate of return in line with that of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. I would like to add here that Labor's amendments require the inclusion of the Indian Ocean territories within the definition of northern Australia. A massive shout-out to our constituents on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island. We have a family in detention who desperately need to get out. I say thank you to the families on Christmas Island who are trying to work with us on many issues, particularly the issue of removing that family from detention. So, as far as Labor is concerned, hopefully Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands will be included in the definition of northern Australia.

Another of our amendments will require First Nations representation on the NAIF board. Currently the NAIF board is made up of Western Australian and Queensland representatives. I understand there was a Northern Territory representative on the board in the initial stages, Barry Coulter, who has now retired. But we do need to see First Nations individuals and organisations represented as part of NAIF going forward, and that is an amendment that we will certainly be putting forward.

In closing, I would just say that the NAIF does need a bold correction. It has an incredible number of faults. The $5 billion is not to be sneered at. I urge this Senate, I urge the parliament, to consider those Australians in the north who do not have access to the kind of wealth that is clearly out there for many others and to use wisely this opportunity to enable those Australians to have a go.

11:28 am

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in relation to this piece of legislation, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill. I must say I find it pretty bad practice for the Senate to be debating this today without first sending it to a Senate inquiry. This bill and its ramifications on our climate, our environment and our communities should be being inquired into. It seems pretty clear that the government is desperate to rush this through as quickly as they can. 'Why?' you may say, Madam Acting Deputy President. It's pretty easy—because the minister in charge has made a promise to his mates in the fossil fuel industry that they can get their claws into some of this money, the $5 billion that's going to be extended to allow the fossil fuel industry to get another handout from the taxpayer, to prop up what is a polluting and incredibly damaging industry for our climate, our environment and our children's future.

It is exactly the wrong way to go: to spend taxpayers' money opening up new gas fields, building new gas pipelines and propping up the coal industry when, in fact, we know the science is very clear. The rest of the world is begging Australia to get on board and to transition our economy from one that is fuelled by dirty fossil fuels to one that embraces the clean, green technologies that are going to power the world into the future, if we're going to deal with dangerous climate change. We've been encouraged over and over and over again by countries that we often compare ourselves to—the US, Canada, Germany and the UK. We've been told by the IMF, the UN and various economic think tanks around the world that, as we grapple with the economic recovery from COVID-19, we should be investing in the transformation to a clean, green economy, yet this bill and the changes that this bill makes, coupled with the billions of dollars handed out to the fossil fuel industry under Tuesday night's budget, is the exact opposite to investing in a clean recovery. In the United States, President Biden is spending $2 trillion in an infrastructure fund designed to invest in clean, green transformation of the economy. That is a good use of stimulus funding and an infrastructure fund—the exact opposite of what we are confronted with here today.

Billions of dollars are going towards gas and coal—dirty fossil fuels that are going to continue to pollute our environment and our planet. Germany is spending $47 billion on a green recovery. Canada is spending $36 billion on a green recovery. If we were debating today billions of dollars going towards an infrastructure fund that was going to transform our economy to where we need to go, we would be backing it, but that is not what we're confronted with today. We're confronted with outdated, old thinking that puts public money into the hands of the dirty fossil fuel industry. It's not reading between the lines of this bill that proves that that is what is going on; the minister responsible has boasted about it. The minister responsible has no qualms about saying he wants to open up more opportunities for the Beetaloo infrastructure financing—public money being spent on dirty fossil fuels. I always think the irony here from the conservative side of the parliament is that they're all okay for social spending when it comes to money for the fossil fuel industry and subsidies to the coal and gas industry, but oh, no, we couldn't possibly give some money to the unemployed or to environmental restoration. The hypocrisy in this place is rank, and this bill says it all.

Not only has Minister Pitt bragged and boasted that this extension of the NAIF scheme and this piece of legislation will deliver for his mates in the coal and gas industry but he's then used his veto powers to stop projects that are actually good for climate action and good for transforming the economy. He vetoed a wind farm that had battery back-up. This is exactly the type of project that we should be seeing infrastructure spending going towards. This is an industry that should be supported by this government. This minister has stood for stopping jobs. That project in Kaban, near Cairns, in Queensland, was going to create 250 jobs. Minister Pitt is a job-killer and a planet-killer and is handing out cash from taxpayers to his mates in the fossil fuel industry. That's what this bill is about. It's going to cost jobs, it's going to cost our environment and it ultimately costs the budget.

When the rest of the world is transitioning, in our trade negotiations with other countries we're starting to be frowned upon by not looking towards a transition out of fossil fuels. We're getting marked down for that. In our negotiations with the EU they're starting to say, 'Hang on a minute, we're not going to keep negotiating with a country like Australia if all you are doing is continuing to prop up polluting industries.' It's starting to cost us around the world not just in reputation but in terms of our negotiations and ultimately our future economy.

So this piece of legislation is a false economy. This is denial in the extreme: $5 billion for the rules to be rewritten so that it can just be handed over by the minister, by the fund. By the way, this bill stops the NAIF board from having any sense of independence by putting the department secretary on it. This is the Liberal National Party's slush fund for the coal and gas industry.

The Greens have been concerned about this fund from day dot. We raised serious concerns at the beginning, and now we're seeing the rules changed even more to make it easier for the slush fund. It beggars belief, to be honest, that the Labor Party is not standing stronger against this, because at the end of the day this is a slush fund for the LNP in Queensland, and that's all it is: $5 billion of public money so that they can keep their mates in the coal and gas industry happy.

Meanwhile, we have everyday Australians who are struggling with zero wage growth, hundreds of thousands of Australians who are struggling to find permanent work and hundreds of thousands of Australians who are underemployed. Australians can't get to the dentist to get their teeth fixed, because the government won't fund proper dental care. But the government are more than happy to put $5 billion of public money on the table for their mates in the dirty fossil fuel industry.

I will be moving an amendment to this piece of legislation. I know Senator Waters is moving a series of amendments which would stop this money going towards those projects that would make our climate worse. We should stop putting public money behind fossil fuels, which are making our climate worse. You can't take seriously anyone from this government on climate action while, under the table, they're propping up the industry that's making things worse. Senator Waters' amendment will make it clear that this $5 billion should be going towards projects that are good for the planet, that help transition our economy to put us in line with the countries that we always like to compare ourselves with around the world—Canada, the US, the UK and Europe.

We have to stop making climate change worse. We have a lot of work to do to try to stop it from becoming dangerous and to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees, but it's near impossible to do that while, at the same time, we're continuing to let the fossil fuel industry pollute and pollute and pollute. One step forward, two steps back; it's a false strategy and it is deeply buried in denialism and vested interest.

So I hope there is support for Senator Waters' amendments. I'll be moving an amendment that says at the very least we shouldn't be spending $5 billion of taxpayers' money on projects that trash the environment, that run through conservation protected areas. I know this government's obsessed with spending public money on fossil fuels, but could we at least think about the rest of the environment—our national parks, our protected conservation areas, the farmland and agricultural areas that have been earmarked by their owners as being looked after for conservation? There are lots of parts of Australia that will be impacted by a number of these projects that the government wants to push on through with taxpayers' money, and some of them at this point are listed to run right through or dig up some of Australia's most unique environments and areas of nature, putting at risk bushland and unique desert areas and threatening our native species.

If you can't come at stopping this money going to polluting fossil fuel industries then at least do something about protecting the environment in which these projects are being mooted to be housed. Let's think about the fact that we need to protect our precious Australian outback. Our native animals that live in some of these places are found nowhere else on earth. Once you've devastated their homes and they've become endangered and extinct, they'll never, ever come back. We need to be thinking more long term about the impacts of these types of projects on the climate, on our nature, on our wildlife, on our precious places, on our bushland, on our grasslands, on our forests and on our unique desert. Handing out money to projects that degrade Australia's environment should be a no-go zone. We've already lost so much of what makes our environment so precious and unique. We've got to stop ruining the little that is left. It's important for the long-term survival of our wildlife and our native species, but it's important for us as a community too.

11:43 am

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021.This bill seeks to extend the time frame and remit of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. It will allow the facility to operate for another five years and will insert a departmental officer onto the NAIF board. What could possibly go wrong with that!

Honourable Senator:

An honourable senator interjecting

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Exactly. No conflicts of interest there at all! Completely independent advice! It will also remove the requirement to gain the support of the host state or territory for future projects supported by the NAIF. In other words, it removes the state veto power. In other words, the Commonwealth can come in and fund a development in my home state of Western Australia—for example, in the magnificent Kimberley—which the state opposes, which perhaps the First Nations peoples oppose. For example, a dam on the Fitzroy is something that I've opposed for as long as I can remember and campaigned against, but this bill might let the Commonwealth do that, because they think it's a very good idea, which, of course, it isn't.

Debate interrupted.