The virtually barren Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund is starting to bear fruit.
It announced today just the second loan in its three year life, issuing 100 per cent of the debt for a $7.18 million project at Humpty Doo Barramundi in the Northern Territory.
The funds will be used to build solar power generation, a fish nursery, and processing which is expected to double its employees to 100 with the upgrade.
With a Federal election looming, likely sometime next year, Northern Australia Minister Matthew Canavan last month relaxed the NAIF’s spending restrictions which could see further Top End spending, and in some of the Coalition’s marginal Queensland electorates.
“Humpty Doo Barramundi is the largest producer of farmed barramundi in Australia and the second largest single-site producer globally,” Mr Canavan said.
“NAIF’s investment will grow the aquaculture business in the Northern Territory, and help to meet growing demand for seafood in both domestic and global markets.”
Significantly, the Humpty Doo funding follows a the government’s decision last month to relax NAIF’s lending regulations, designed to address the disappointing lack of investment in the past three years.
NAIF’s new ‘investment mandate’ includes removal on the 50pc cap on loans to enable the Commonwealth to fully fund a project’s debt, increasing the scope of its remit to capture supply and service facilities and removal of a nominal $50 million project threshold which the NAIF adhered to.
The changes follow an independent review of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund by businessman Tony Shepherd.
Humpty Doo Barramundi is a family business established in 1993. Its new project is aimed at reducing its demand on gas fired power, adding processing equipment and building capacity to sell medium-sized fish to other aquaculture producers.
NAIF chief executive Laurie Walker said the lending changes had been a catalyst for the Humpty Doo investment.
“NAIF quickly progressed the project to an investment decision as a direct result of the investment mandate changes that were recently announced by the Minister,” Ms Walker said.
The NAIF will also investigate how it can cooperate with state and territory governments for targeted investment in regional economic hubs, where private projects could leverage off shared infrastructure.
Government is also considering another of the report’s recommendation, that the NAIF move beyond project finance to take equity stakes in projects.
Labor northern Australia spokesman Jason Clare has been critical of the “go-slow” roll-out of NAIF investments.
“We've had three wasted years. Three years of missed opportunity, three years where the NAIF could have been creating jobs and building infrastructure right across Northern Australia,” Mr Clare said.
Ms Walker said the NAIF was considering funding the second and third phases of Humpty Doo Barramundi’s upgrades, which would take the project spend from $7m to $30m overall.
The NAIF has also issued a $17m loan to Onslow Marine Support Base in Western Australia.