NAIF delivers $76m to help CQUni tech upgrade
THE Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has come through with the goods for Central Queensland, delivering a $76 million loan to CQUniversity to provide much needed upgrades as the region begins the post-pandemic recovery process.
Rather than the bricks and mortar projects you typically see benefiting from NAIF’s loans, CQUniversity intends to spend the money on capital works and upgrades to digital infrastructure throughout its northern Australia campuses over the next two years, creating hundreds of jobs in the process.
Acting as a key hub for technology, CQUni’s North Rockhampton campus was expected to attract the lion’s share of funding but its other campuses in Gladstone, Emerald, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns, and even the Western Australian Pilbara will benefit.
Vice-chancellor and president of CQUniversity Nick Klomp welcomed Assistant Minister for Northern Australia Michelle Landry to the North Rockhampton campus on Thursday morning for the announcement of the contractual close with the NAIF – an important milestone when proponents can start project design and construction, driving employment and economic growth.
“CQUniversity is intent on thriving, not just surviving, after the impacts of COVID-19, so we need to continue to invest, to keep delivering world-class education, training and research for years to come,” Professor Klomp said.
“That’s why we’re leveraging the NAIF loan to invest in capital works and digital infrastructure that will improve the student experience, enhance the quality of teaching and learning, and create new economic opportunities for the regions we serve.
“This is an exciting time to be a regional university and I thank the NAIF for their support, as we continue to build a university that will help propel the future prosperity of northern Australia.”
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said the NAIF funding would be used at campuses across regional Australia, for construction work and refurbishments and to upgrade CQU’s digital networks to improve delivery of remote learning.
“NAIF has worked quickly to achieve contractual close to ensure CQU will be able to continue to deliver quality higher education courses to students around the country, particularly in remote centres across Northern Australia,” Mr Pitt said.
“With NAIF’s investment, the university can now plan for the next two years and be ready to welcome back more students as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Coalition government is a strong supporter of development in northern Australia, to provide jobs and economic opportunities right across the north for the benefit of all Australians.”
After copping years of criticism from Labor since NAIF’s inception in 2016 for the facility’s failing to spend money in the region, a visibly relieved Ms Landry was delighted to see money changing hands.
Earlier this year, Minister Pitt announced a series of reforms which would speed up NAIF loan approvals and make it easier for suitable projects to qualify.
“Look there has been a lot of hiccups with (the NAIF), a lot of red tape, paperwork has been quite intense for people to fill out,” Ms Landry said.
“We’re trying to pass legislation make it easier for people to apply for a NAIF loan.
“There’s never been a minimum amount so what we’re looking at is making it between one and five million dollars so that it is easier to access and smaller organisations can apply for that funding.”
She said companies applying to the NAIF for support with their projects were often very complex in nature and it was important they demonstrated their capacity to repay loans.
“We think that it’s really gaining momentum, particularly with having the Northern Australia Conference here over three days,” she said.
“It’s about putting northern Australia on the map so that people realise what opportunities there are up here.”
The government has announced an extension to the $5 billion facility to continue operations for a further five years until mid-2026.
“Since its inception, NAIF has committed more than $2.4 billion in projects across northern Australia, supporting around 8,000 jobs, and has reached contractual close on $1.1 billion worth of projects across the north,” she said.
“In Queensland, NAIF has made 10 investment decisions valued at $1 billion across a range of sectors.”
Shadow Minister for Northern Australia Murray Watt was encouraged by the NAIF announcement but wasn’t convinced that a contractual close equalled the flow of funds.
“Labor welcomes the NAIF funding any projects in Central Queensland, given so little has come of it to date,” Senator Watt said.
“It’s pleasing to see this project reach contractual close, but the government needs to explain when funds will actually be delivered.
“We already know the NAIF has only released about $218 million of its $5 billion budget, five years after it was announced.”
He said not one Central Queensland project had received a dollar from the NAIF in five years, which was totally unacceptable.
“This project can’t become another announcement that the Morrison Government doesn’t deliver,” he said.
“CQUniversity needs all the help it can get from this Government. The university had to cut nearly 300 staff and close three campuses, after the Government excluded it from JobKeeper payments.
“We need to see the NAIF’s funding flowing now. Skills and training are going to be vital for Central Queensland, as we recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19.”
Ms Landry responded to Senator Watt saying it was the recipient of a NAIF loan who decided themselves when to draw down on loan funds.
This was agreed between themselves and NAIF, based on their own individual circumstances and how the project was progressing.
“For example, if there is a shortage of construction partners in the local area, a proponent has the autonomy to pause or slow down the progress of construction if it’s agreed between themselves and NAIF,” Ms Landry said.
“Further draw down on funds are based on hitting construction milestones, much the same as utilising and paying various contractors at different stages in constructing a new house.
“Senator Watt knows this process, however he rises to every opportunity to peddle misinformation and talk down the potential Northern Australia has.
“Instead of peddling misinformation on the NAIF, he needs to tell the truth on his involvement in selling off rail assets in Rockhampton when he was Anna Bligh’s right hand man in 2008.”