Pilbara a NAIF focus area, says fund chief

Alicia PereraPilbara News

The chief executive of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has described the Pilbara as a “major focus area” for the fund with power, communications and multi-user projects all key areas in which it would welcome local projects.

NAIF chief executive Laurie Walker was in Karratha last week for a networking event hosted by the funding authority’s board to promote the program and speak to potential proponents.

She said the Pilbara was a particular area of interest for NAIF because of the strong opportunities it offered for economic growth.

“It’s got such a mix of economic opportunity and it’s obviously got LNG and iron ore,” she said.

“It’s got growth that we can see and that we want to be able to enhance, by working in collaboration with partners, whether they’re public or private sector, so it’s a key regional area.”

While in WA theteam also visited Onslow — the site of the first NAIF-funded project, the $125 million Onslow Marine Support Base, in October — as well as Port Hedland, Broome and Perth.

Ms Walker said NAIF covered a broader range of projects than most people realised, ranging from pure infrastructure including ports, railways and road upgrades to social infrastructure such as hospitals and facilities for education or tourism.

She said in the Pilbara the board saw greatest opportunities in the fields of energy, including renewables; improving communication through better connectivity; and establishing more multi-user infrastructure — the last of which had already attracted significant local interest. “Because the north is as large as it is, and the population is as small as it is, the more people who can get the benefit of a project the better,” she said.

“Particularly for junior resources companies, we’re encouraging (them) to get together, co-operate, leverage and share the infrastructure.”

Ms Walker said WA was so far holding its own in the application stakes with four of the 13 projects going through NAIF due diligence coming from the west, along with four in the Northern Territory and five in Queensland.

She said WA had an advantage by having been the first State to have an investment successfully go through the approval process.

“Having the first (project) in your jurisdiction means that we’ve worked through the processes that we all need to understand to know how we’re all going to work together, because this is a new arrangement and it is very different,” she said.

“They (the WA State government) know now how we will work with them, and they also understand how agile we can be.”

NAIF was set up in mid 2016 to encourage investment in infrastructure for northern Australia by offering up to $5 billion in concessional loans for private sector projects in the region.

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