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NEW NORTHERN AUSTRALIA REPORT CALLS FOR CHANGE

December 03, 2020

NEW NORTHERN AUSTRALIA REPORT CALLS FOR CHANGE

The Federal Government must do more to prioritise local jobs, fast-track funding and invest in small projects in Northern Australia in order to help regional areas recover post-COVID, a new Senate inquiry report has found.

The interim report, handed down today by the Senate Select Committee on the Effectiveness of the Australian Government’s Northern Australia agenda, outlined a series of recommendations to fast-track growth in the region.

Following more than a year of face-to-face hearings in Darwin, Townsville, Mt Isa, Mackay and Nhulunbuy, along with a series of video-conferences, the bipartisan inquiry called for more focused federal government investment on smaller shovel-ready projects, First Nations-led projects and industries that have been badly impacted by COVID-19.

Of the nine unanimous recommendations made, eight related to changes to the struggling Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), a $5 billion federal loans scheme.

The report found that the NAIF was sluggish in delivering on funding, noting that “As of 30 October 2020, total payments of only $218.4 million (including capitalised interest) have been drawn down. Further the NAIF’s current projections are that proponents will have made a drawdown of only $400 million in NAIF funds by 30 June 2021. Simply put, the committee is concerned, that it is taking too long for NAIF funding to get out the door.”

Among the recommendations, the report suggests:

  • Broadening the eligibility of the NAIF to allow smaller projects and more industries to apply.
  • Consideration of converting some of the NAIF funds to grants, equity stakes and guarantees, to ensure that small scale projects and First Nations projects are adequately supported.
  • Ensuring NAIF projects buy local and employ locals, as a way of generating jobs in the regions.
  • A review by the Morrison Government to determine which industries have been impacted by COVID-19 and prioritise projects within those industries.
  • Greater transparency and accountability when it comes to NAIF management, project approval and staff bonuses.

The message could not be clearer for the Morrison Government – the NAIF needs to be overhauled significantly.

Less than 5 cents in every dollar of NAIF funding has been released since the program was announced.

“The Office of Northern Australia and NAIF will be of critical importance in generating economic development to ensure Northern Australia has a strong role in Australia’s post COVID-19 economic recovery,” the interim report said.

The committee will continue to hold more public hearings in Northern Australia, including two in Cairns and Thursday Island later this month.

A final report will be tabled in March 2021.

Note: The full interim report can be viewed at: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/NorthernAustraliaAgenda/NorthernAustraliaAgenda/Interim_Report

 

THURSDAY, 3 DECEMBER 2020

A FAIR GO FOR AUSTRALIA