TAXPAYERS will become shareholders of major infrastructure projects in Northern Australia under a further shake-up of a $5bn federal government loan program.

Northern Australia and Resources Minister Keith Pitt will today announce a further suite of proposed changes to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, in line with the completion of a tri-annual review of the NAIF.

The latest changes include removing a ban on equity investments, or the ability of the NAIF to finance projects by buying shares.

The NAIF won't be allowed to take a controlling equity stake in a project and there will be a cap of $50m per project, out of an overall equity investment pool of $500m.

Mr Pitt said the removal of the ban on equity investment will increase NAIF's capacity to actively support development in communities across the north as Australia deals with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keith Pitt Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia during Question Time in the House of Representatives in Parliament House Canberra. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Keith Pitt Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia during Question Time in the House of Representatives in Parliament House Canberra. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage


"The (other) reforms will (also) streamline the approval process for NAIF to decide the most appropriate financing option for each project, including debt guarantees and the purchase of bonds, without the need for each decision to seek multiple approvals," he said.

Recently announced changes to the NAIF include giving it the option in some cases to lend directly to project proponents instead of going through state and territory governments. The NAIF would also be allowed to take on majority financial risk of the project.

The legislation required to action these reforms will be introduced in parliament in the first quarter of 2021, the government has confirmed.

This comes a week after a Senate inquiry into the effectiveness of the commonwealth's Northern Australia agenda recommended the government, as a matter of priority in 2021, legislate proposed NAIF reforms.

The committee also recommended the federal government undertake a review to determine which industries - particularly tourism, higher-education and agriculture - had been worst impacted by the pandemic and prioritise them for projects.

Originally published as Taxpayers to become shareholders under major NAIF shake-up


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