Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund

Federation in Chamber


Two weeks ago Pippa Middleton (the sister of potentially the future Queen of England) visited the Northern Territory.

It got a bit of publicity – you might have seen it on the TV.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I think it’s a fair bet that that trip will probably deliver more economic development to the North than this Government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has in the last two years.

And that’s because they haven’t done anything, they haven’t delivered any money to any projects in two years.

Two years ago they announced the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

$5 billion that they said they’d use to fund job generating, nation building infrastructure in Northern Australia.

There was a lot of fanfare – the former Treasurer Joe Hockey said this was “the first major step in our plan for our great North”.

The Minister for Northern Australia said “the time for talk is over, and the time for action is here”.

Since then – nothing.

Nothing has happened.

No money has been allocated.

They’ve spent over $600,000 on salaries and expenses for Board Members, but they haven’t delivered a zack for any project that’s creating jobs in Northern Australia.

All we know is that over the last two years they have had 119 enquires for funding, they are apparently considering 60 active deals, but there are only four that are currently subject to due diligence.

And nothing has been funded. In two years nothing has been allocated.

More worryingly though is what we found out in Estimates only two weeks ago.

In particular what we found out about one Board member, a Karla Way-McPhail.

We found out that Ms Way-McPhail:

  • Is a personal friend of the Minister.
  • That the Minister put her forward for appointment to the Board.
  • That Ms Way-McPhail regularly attends LNP fundraisers and is a donor to the LNP.

We also learned that Ms Way-McPhail is the CEO of two mining services companies that could benefit from potential NAIF funding.

One is Undamine Industries, which hires out labour and machinery to mining operations and the other is Coal Train Australia, a mining training company based in Central Queensland.

She is also the Director of a boat company that could benefit from potential NAIF funding for a tourism development on Great Keppel Island.

The point I’m making here is there is a clear potential conflict of interest on that Board.

In a Guardian Australia story last month Ms Way-McPhail refused to say whether she has participated in Board discussions where she has a conflict of interest.

In the same story a spokesperson for the Minister for Northern Australia said NAIF’s conflict of interest policies require Board Members quote to “declare their interests and recuse themselves from discussions if there is a conflict of interest”.

So we asked in Estimates whether Ms Way-McPhail has done this.

One, whether she’s declared conflicts of interest.

And two, if she has conflicts of interest that she has declared whether she has she recused herself from discussions where a potential conflict of interest may arise.

And that’s when the shutters came down.

The Minister and the CEO of NAIF refused to answer any of our questions on the basis of Public Interest Immunity.

That is not good enough.

This is $5 billion of taxpayer’s money.

We’ve got a right to ask whether proper governance is being applied in this Board to make sure that the money is allocated to the proper places.

Apart from that, Australians have got a right to know what’s going on inside the NAIF.

We know at least one person on the NAIF Board is a political mate.

We know she has a clear potential conflict of interest – because of the companies she runs that could benefit from NAIF funding.

We know the NAIF Board has considered projects where conflicts of interest could arise.

And this Government refuses to say whether she was in the room for discussions about these projects or whether she recused herself.

It is not good governance – it is a cover up.

It’s why we’ve asked the Australian National Audit Office to investigate NAIF.

It is why we have put a forward a motion in the Senate today to refer NAIF to the Senate Economics References Committee for investigation.

When the Deputy Prime Minister was asked about this a couple of weeks ago he said “If there’s a claim that there’s a conflict of interest … [we’ll] check that out”.

So my question to the Minister is where is the investigation up to? Has it started? Has it concluded?

And will you answer the question that the Minister refused to answer in Estimates?

Has Ms Way-McPhail recused herself from all discussion on the NAIF Board where she has a conflict of interest, or not?