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  • Renee Cluff

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    Senate committee to investigate roadblocks of Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility

    A Senate Inquiry is examining why a loan fund established more than three years ago to help develop major projects in northern Australia has so far released just a tenth of its $5 billion limit.

    The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has approved 11 loans totaling just over $1.2 billion.

    However, Chairman of the select committee, Senator Murray Watt, said just a fraction of that has actually been paid out.

    “The most recent figures that we have are that only about $416 million of that $5 billion has been released,” he told the ABC.

    “There have been a couple approved in North Queensland but there’s just been no money going out the door, apart from what has been incurred in running the NAIF itself and paying its directors.

    “So, if this Senate Inquiry can shine a bit of a light on what some of the roadblocks are with the NAIF and the Northern Australian agenda more broadly, then I think that’s a good thing.

    Loans totaling just over $700 million have been approved for Queensland infrastructure projects, however they’re all based south of Cairns.

    The recipients include James Cook University’s Townsville campus, Townsville Airport and Genex Power for its Kidston renewable energy plant, west of Townsville.

    The process has long been criticised for its arduous processes and questioned over its effectiveness.

    Earlier this year, a report by the Auditor-General said it lacked transparency and didn’t treat projects consistently through the decision-making process.

    NAIF Chief Executive Laurie Walker has not sought a contract renewal and will be finishing up in the role in October.

    “People are sort of wondering, why would you put yourself through the hassle of applying through a government process, with all of the accountability and probity requirements that’s involved, when you can really get the same deal from the bank down the street?” Senator Watt asked.

    “I’ve had a lot of complaints from people already about the NAIF and I do hope that people take the opportunity to give some suggestions about how it can be improved for the future.”

    The Select Committee will also be examining the effectiveness of the Australian Government’s Northern Australia agenda as a whole.

    The public submissions period is open and closes in September.

    Public hearings, including one in Cairns, are expected to be announced in the future.

    The committee is not due to report back until the last sitting day of 2020.