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Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Page: 10


Mr PITT (HinklerMinister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) (09:49): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Australian government has an ongoing commitment to supporting northern Australia to deliver on its potential. This bill positions the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (the NAIF) to deliver for northern Australia while it navigates the challenging economic conditions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government released the Statutory Review of the NAIF in December last year. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all stakeholders who participated in the review's consultation processes. Those stakeholders said, loudly and clearly, that while the NAIF is delivering for northern Australia, it can and should do more. The Australian government has listened to that feedback. Today I introduce this bill to give effect to reforms arising from that review. The bill aims to make the NAIF more proactive in investment decisions and freeing up unnecessary administrative burdens to accelerate lending.

The bill extends the investment window of the NAIF for a further five years, until 30 June 2026. This will allow more time for project proponents to seek and secure financial assistance for investments that deliver economic or population growth for the north.

The bill also expands the scope of projects for which financial assistance can be provided, increasing the breadth of projects eligible for financial support. This means that, while the central objective of the NAIF remains building infrastructure, its support can now also go to additional elements of infrastructure development. These might include the purchase of equipment, leasing, training and the expansion of existing business operations. As it was put to the review by one stakeholder, the NAIF will be able to finance not just the building of a shed, but also the equipment you need to put in it.

The bill will support streamlining and simplification of the NAIF's processes, and reducing administrative burden. The NAIF will have greater freedom to decide how and under what conditions it provides financial assistance to project proponents.

Amendments to allow for direct lending to project proponents in certain circumstances reduce the burden on state and territory governments. The NAIF will also have the flexibility to invest through subsidiaries, on-lending partnerships and other investment vehicles. These changes allow greater flexibility in how the NAIF delivers financial assistance to the north.

The government recognises the significant contribution smaller businesses make to their regions. These reforms will allow the NAIF to partner with organisations experienced in working with small businesses to make NAIF finance more accessible. Under these arrangements, the NAIF will provide the capital, and their partner will support small businesses through the application process, providing opportunities for them to deliver projects and significantly benefit their regions.

By adding the Minister for Finance as jointly responsible for the NAIF investment mandate; introducing a government member to the NAIF board; and expanding the NAIF board's areas of expertise, the bill strengthens the NAIF's governance and supports its alignment with the Australian government's policy agenda.

Following passage of this bill, the government will issue a new investment mandate for the NAIF. The new mandate will provide direction on implementing the new functions and responsibilities provided for in this bill, including on making equity investments and supporting accessibility by small projects and businesses.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.