The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has made very good progress over the last year. It has now funded just under $1½ billion of investments.
Senator WATT (Queensland—Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (14:32):
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. After four years of operation and four reviews, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has released only $44 million—less than one per cent of its $5 billion budget. When asked on notice how many jobs had been created by the NAIF, all the minister could talk about were jobs that might be created at some point in the future. Minister, how many jobs have actually been created in the four years the NAIF has been in operation?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (14:33):
I thank Senator Watt for his question. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has made very good progress over the last year. It has now funded just under $1½ billion of investments.
With $44 million released. Do you think that's good?
I was the first to admit that it got off to a slow start. We were doing something innovative, something different, and it took a little while to get going.
Four years of slow starts.
But, about 16 months ago, we made some changes to the investment mandate, which has unlocked $1½ billion of investments across northern Australia. That is going to create 2,400 jobs around northern Australia.
Senator Watt interjecting—
Senator Canavan, please resume your seat. Senator Watt, you've asked a question. I have called you to order quite a few times this week. I will ask you to take a deep breath and not continue to interject for a little while after I call you to order at least. You've asked a question and I'd like to hear the answer.
The approach that Senator Watt is suggesting is that somehow we should send the money out from day one of a project. This is why the Labor Party don't know how to manage money. As I've said, over the past 12 months—
Order! Senator Watt, on a point of order?
On relevance: I am mindful of your previous rulings, but he has not gone near the question, which is: how many jobs have actually been created? It is not how many will be one day, maybe, sometime in the future but how many have actually been created. That is the question.
On the point of order, that was the conclusion of your question, Senator Watt. I believe the minister was being directly relevant to the preamble that you outlined, which was the reason for expenditure being of a certain pattern. That said, I will remind the minister not to impute motives to the asker of the question in answering it, because that would not be directly relevant.
A hypothetical senator who is making a point saying that we should somehow send all the money out on day one is the reason the Australian people do not trust the Labor Party with money. What happens, of course, is that money is provided to projects as milestones are met. When you are building a house, when the slab goes down, the builder gets a bit of money; when the frame goes up, he gets a bit more; when the roof goes on, he gets a little more. That is what is going to happen with this $1½ billion we are investing in northern Australia to get economic activity going. That is actually going to create 4,000 jobs in total; I was underestimating it before. That is 4,000 jobs over the next few years because we are taking the decision to develop our nation—to invest in parts of our country that are not as developed as the rest of the country but have huge opportunity. That is why I am very, very happy to see the progress that we have made over the last year. More importantly, jobs will be created in the years to come from these investments in remote parts of our country.
Senator Watt, a supplementary question?
Senator WATT (Queensland—Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (14:36):
The largest loan approved by the NAIF, nearly half the value of total loans committed by the NAIF, is a $610 million loan for a pumped hydro project in North Queensland, a project federal Labor supports. The loan has now been delayed after reports emerged that it may lapse. Can the minister advise the Senate: is this $610 million loan proceeding, yes or no?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (14:36):
The offer or investment decision of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to invest in the Genex project remains on the table. Indeed, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility announced a couple of weeks ago that they would extend the validity of that decision through to next year for another six months. The reason for the delays in the project is unrelated to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility; they relate to the proponents themselves getting other offtake agreements in place with customers. Obviously, these things happen from time to time, but we are committed to the future of northern Australia. We are committed to staying the course here on all of these projects. I think that project in particular is very important to secure the power supplies of northern Queensland. That is why we will keep working with proponents to finalise that decision. I am hopeful that that will be made very soon.
Senator Watt, a final supplementary question?
Senator WATT (Queensland—Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (14:37):
This $610 million loan is now the second loan approved by the NAIF that is under a cloud, following news that a $19.5 million loan to Pilbara Minerals Ltd has also fallen over. How many other NAIF loans are at risk of falling over?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (14:38):
Again, that particular investment that the senator refers to related to changes in lithium markets, outside the government's control. That is unfortunate, but we will keep working. Now, there are other NAIF investments that have been held up. For example, the NAIF was considering building a rail line to the Galilee Basin that could have created thousands of jobs in Central Queensland, but, because the Labor Party do not support the coal industry, they blocked that loan. The Labor Party blocked that loan!
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! My apologies—I was being advised by a member of your team, Senator Watt. I did not see you stand. Senator Watt, on a point of order?
I know the minister is not enjoying being exposed, but the question was about one project. This is on direct relevance. The question was about one project where the NAIF loan has fallen over. The minister wants to talk about another project. Can he come back to the actual question that was asked.
On the point of order, Senator Watt, I will be honest, I was being advised by a member—
Senator Watt interjecting—
Order! Senator Watt, I am ruling on your point of order, if you could take a breath. I was being advised about the order of subsequent questions, so I did lose track for 10 seconds of the minister's answer. You have reminded him of it. I will take this opportunity to remind him of you doing so.
Thank you, Mr President. Senator Watt did in his question refer to other projects, and there were other NAIF projects that could have been going by now if only the Labor Party would back jobs in regional areas. But we know that the Labor Party have long since deserted the mining industry. In northern Australia, half of the economy is in mining, but those guys over there don't support the industry and, if you don't support the mining industry, you don't support the development of northern Australia. That's what we support, and we'll keep backing those industries to create jobs for northern Australia.