April 18, 2018 / 4:52 AM / 7 months ago

Australia to amend $3.9 billion infrastructure fund in bid to develop country's north

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will amend the guidelines for a A$5 billion ($3.9 billion) fund that offers loans to build infrastructure in the country’s north so it can offer greater support to a broader range of projects, a government minister said on Wednesday.

The changes will aid a bid to develop Australia’s sparsely populated, yet resource-rich northern region, opening the fund to more projects after some, such as a proposed coal mine by Indian conglomerate Adani Enterprises (ADEL.NS), ran into political hurdles.

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) was introduced in 2016, but its rules had proved too restrictive, said Minister for Northern Australia Matt Canavan.

“There’s a strong pipeline of projects but it has been challenging to get them to financial close, so that’s why some of these rules are being changed,” Canavan told Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio.

The government will remove a requirement that means NAIF can fund only 50 percent of a project, while the types of infrastructure that can be backed will also be broadened.

“The changes now make it absolutely clear that we are able to consider smaller projects, where they meet our mandatory criteria,” NAIF chief executive Laurie Walker said in a statement.

Canavan said NAIF had 90 projects in the pipeline relating to energy generation and gas pipelines, transport, tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, water infrastructure and communications

“I am confident that many of the projects currently under consideration by the board of NAIF will quickly be given the tick of approval once these changes are made,” he told ABC Radio.

The changes will not, however, revive Adani’s giant coal mine, which has faced strong opposition on environmental grounds, Australia’s Treasurer Scott Morrison said.

“It’s off the table. They made that decision. This change in no way resuscitates that,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Adani had hoped for government funding to help build a 400 km (250 mile) rail line connecting its proposed mine with a Pacific Ocean port.

Australian state leaders will also keep their ability to veto any NAIF loan, which scuttled Adani’s plans, Morrison said.

The amendments come just over 12 months out from Australia’s next federal election where the ruling coalition government will seek to win favor with voters on its economic record.

Australia’s north, which has been home to a rise of right-wing parties such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, is shaping up as a key battleground and contains many of the ruling Liberal/National coalition government’s least secure seats.

Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Richard Pullin

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