NAIF’s vision is to transform northern Australia through financing the development of infrastructure. NAIF’s focus on public benefit, economic and population growth and Indigenous involvement in northern Australia, are key differentiators from other lenders.
NAIF is a $5 billion lending facility established to provide financial assistance (which may be concessional) to infrastructure projects.
NAIF is an initiative of the Commonwealth Government’s strategy to develop northern Australia. It came into effect on 1 July 2016 as a corporate Commonwealth entity under the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act 2016 (NAIF Act), which was passed with bipartisan support. It is a flagship initiative of the Northern Australia White Paper Our North, our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.
Other Commonwealth legislation including the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 also governs NAIF’s operations.
NAIF’s responsible minister is the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. The Minister appoints NAIF’s independent Board and has given NAIF direction through the NAIF Investment Mandate Direction 2018 (Investment Mandate). The Minister has also issued a Statement of Expectations which outlines his expectations on the operation and performance of NAIF, beyond that considered by the legislative framework.
NAIF’s commercially focused Board has sole responsibility for making Investment Decisions (being decisions to offer finance to infrastructure projects in northern Australia). Subject to provisions in the NAIF Act and Investment Mandate, the Board’s decisions are unfettered.
NAIF’s head office is in northern Australia in Cairns, Queensland, where NAIF’s CEO is based. NAIF also has staff based in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney to serve proponents and stakeholders throughout northern Australia and centres of finance and infrastructure investors.
NAIF’s primary purpose is to accelerate infrastructure development and thereby transform northern Australia by financing that generates:
- public benefit being broad based and including that outside of what is captured by the project proponent;
- longer term growth in the economy and population of northern Australia;
- potential to encourage private sector participation in the financing of northern Australia’s infrastructure needs; and
- sustainable Indigenous participation, procurement and employment outcomes.
NAIF financing can assist in:
- opening new markets and developing new, more reliable supply chains;
- reducing business costs through improving productivity, creating jobs and encouraging a larger population base by helping to attract and retain workers;
- making better use of existing infrastructure for example, by improving capacity, safety and usability to overcome seasonal and other supply chain constraints; and
- helping to overcome diseconomies of scale by developing pathways to co-sharing and multi user access to infrastructure.
In the Australian infrastructure financing market NAIF is uniquely positioned. It is a ‘gap financier’ as it looks to accelerate investment in northern Australia through financing projects that are viable in the long term but which, without NAIF, would be unlikely to proceed, or would only proceed at a much later date or with a more limited scope.
To fill that market gap, NAIF can structure its debt finance and take risk very differently to traditional lenders. NAIF finance complements other sources of finance. It does not compete. Two key features of its Investment Mandate are relevant in this regard. NAIF may as appropriate:
- take high risk for factors unique to investing in northern Australia infrastructure including but not limited to, distance, remoteness and climate; and
- provide finance on concessional terms (the extent and mix of concessions offered have regard to what is necessary for an Investment Proposal to proceed, and the extent of public benefit generated), provided these are the minimum required for a project to proceed.
This allows the repayment profile of NAIF’s finance to be shaped to better match the long term life of infrastructure assets, and also to support investors and infrastructure users as they take risk themselves in constructing infrastructure in remote or regional areas, moving into new markets and establishing new distribution networks. NAIF’s concessional financing terms (relative to other lenders) may:
- have longer tenors (up to the longest Commonwealth borrowing currently up to 31 years);
- have lower interest rates (not below the Commonwealth bond rates);
- be more patient (for example extended period of interest capitalisation beyond the construction period or deferral of loan repayments with extended interest only periods);
- have different fee structures; and
- be subordinated in cashflow or security.
While NAIF has a higher tolerance for risk than traditional lenders, for all NAIF loans there must be an expectation that the NAIF loan will be able to be repaid or refinanced, based on assumptions the Board considers reasonable.
As a lender of public sector funds NAIF seeks to effect change for the benefit of northern communities including the Indigenous populations in the region of projects financed by NAIF and in doing so also for northern Australia and our nation more broadly.
Another differentiator from other lenders is that NAIF is primarily driven by public benefit. NAIF must gain a return on its funds such that NAIF transaction revenue is greater than its operating costs and the Commonwealth cost of borrowing (on moneys lent at a portfolio level) over the life of the NAIF supported loans (both currently approved and projected).
Under Master Facility Agreements between NAIF, the Commonwealth, and the Northern Territory,
Queensland and Western Australian governments respectively, each jurisdiction is the lender of record for NAIF facilities. The loans are reflected in the accounts of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (DIIS), and the corresponding revenue earned by NAIF (including fees and interest) is also reported in those accounts.
NAIF’s financial accounts refer to the revenue received from government to meet its operating expenses.