Canberra billions: Is there anybody out there?

2622 Mark Coffey OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Alice Springs is slow off the mark getting a slice of the $5bn in the kitty of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).

 

There will be some benefit to the town from an approved $300m project (including a $150m NAIF loan) for the Darwin, Tennant Creek and Alice airports.

 

In Alice this will include solar energy farms as well as resurfacing of the runway, taxiways and apron and installation of new runway lighting.

 

The portion of the $300m to be spent in Alice Springs is not yet known, says Northern Territory Airports Ltd.

 

Another NAIF loan may well work against the interests of Alice Springs, $27.5m to Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, for a project at Connellan Airport, Ayers Rock Resort.

 

This will clearly enhance that visitor facility, likely to be drawing more tourism business away from The Alice.

 

Head of the Office of Northern Australia Mark Coffey (pictured) says by June last year there had been only two projects approved, a marine support base at Onslow in WA ($16.8m) and the Humpty Doo barramundi farm ($7.2m).

 

But since NAIF’s change of the investment mandate in May last year a further nine projects were added, making it 10 including the airport ones.

 

Anyone can ask for a NAIF loan – and that includes local state governments, private people and all kinds of organisations: Of course they need to have a little more than half of the money – and a very sound business plan.

 

There has been a deafening silence in The Alice including from the Alice Springs Town Council and tourism interests.

 

The rule of thumb is that NAIF lends a little less than half – it avoids being “the biggest risk taker,” says Mr Coffey.

 

To date loans totalling $1.3bn has been committed including conditionally $2.8bn. That leaves $3.7bn in the kitty.

 

Why borrow from NAIF?

 

It can make concessions, grant lower interest rates, repayment over longer periods. It all depends on the degree of economic development achieved, the public benefit, jobs creation and so on, says Mr Coffey: “Is it developing the north? That’s the main question.”

 

NAIF’s initial process is secret, which deprives the taxpayer of a say on who gets the money.

 

“Negotiations are confidential,” says Mr Coffey.

 

“It could affect share prices. The talks are quite sensitive. A project may not go ahead.”

 

Are there talks under way with applicants in Alice Springs?

 

“Around this region,” he says.

 

>NEWS: Would it not be useful for NAIF to know what the public response is to these applications, considering it is public money that you are spending?

 

COFFEY: That’s not the way it works. NAIF do have a requirement to publish once they make an investment decision. Other than consultations that are required with the states there is no public consultation [ahead of that].

 

NEWS: Would the NT Government know, for example, who the proponents are in this region?

 

COFFEY: It depends where the projects are up to. They may not know whether a proponent is talking to NAIF, but once NAIF is actively considering a project then they would engage with the states.

 

NEWS: Is that the only feedback you are getting?

 

COFFEY: Yes.

 

The 10 approved projects include, with the NAIF loan amounts in brackets:–

 

• Beyondie Sulphate of Potash project, Kalium Lakes Limited, WA (up to $74m for a new gas pipeline, power plant and road upgrades).

 

• Townsville Airport Upgrade (up to $50m).

 

• Thunderbird Mineral Sands, mining and processing project on the Dampier Peninsula, WA (up to $95m).

 

• Pippingarra Access Road Upgrades, Pilbara Minerals Limited (up to $19.5m).

 

• Townsville Campus Upgrades – James Cook University (up to $98m).

 

• A project to be announced soon.

 

 

 

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Erwin Chlanda, Editor


One Comment (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Psuedo Guru
    Posted March 22, 2019 at 8:00 am

    Alice Springs airport upgrade should interest Qantas pilot training academy No 2. A sound NAIF investment.

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