Minister Keith Pitt and Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry.
Minister Keith Pitt and Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry.

Major NAIF changes to boost economy and jobs in CQ

Reforms to speed up investment approvals for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility were introduced in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, the first step towards overhauling the fund meant to energise northern economies, including Central Queensland’s.

NAIF has been criticised in the past for its tardiness in ‘releasing’ money from its $5 billion budget.

Member for Capricornia and Northern Australia Assistant Minister Michelle Landry said although NAIF was important, more needed to be done to improve its processes.

“Communities in Northern Australia made it clear they wanted NAIF to be more nimble and agile, and ready to respond,” she said.

“We are determined to streamline NAIF’s operations and sharpen its investment focus, to make sure it can continue to support development opportunities across the north for the good of all Australians.”

The area in which NAIF operates.
The area in which NAIF operates.

The reforms outlined in the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 address the recommendations of a 2020 statutory review of NAIF that looked into how it could best contribute to economic development in the north.

The changes include giving NAIF the option to lend directly to project proponents in certain circumstances; allowing investment in additional areas, such as equipment or leasing, training, and the expansion of operations; allowing investment in equity; and appointing a government representative to the NAIF board, including someone familiar with Indigenous development.

Northern Australia Minister Keith Pitt said if enacted, the reforms would extend the operations of NAIF for a further five years until June 30, 2026.

“Our changes will provide NAIF with more flexibility and new investment tools, as well as widening the scope of projects eligible for funding and strengthen its governance,” he said.

“The changes will empower NAIF to make faster lending decisions for appropriate projects, and increase NAIF’s risk appetite so it can respond more appropriately to the economic challenges following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The reforms will also strengthen NAIF’s governance, allow NAIF to make strategic equity investments in some projects, and will expand the scope of projects which will be able to apply for NAIF funding.”

The bill must now be read several times in the lower house before being introduced to the Senate and passed.

Senator and Northern Australia Shadow Minister Murray Watt welcomed the changes, which he said he had been advocating for years.

“The NAIF has been a colossal failure, having only released 5 cents in every dollar of its $5 billion budget since it was announced nearly six years ago,” he said.

“It’s now up to Michelle Landry and Keith Pitt to deliver what they’ve promised, because when it comes to the NAIF we’ve seen lots announced, but little delivered.”