The Turnbull government's Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has agreed to issue its first loan, but the project still needs Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's tick of approval.
The fund's board this week approved a $16.8 million 10-year concessional loan for a shipping base at Onslow, in WA's Pilbara region, which will service the oil and gas industry.
Mr Joyce, as the minister overseeing the fund, now has until midnight on October 20 to approve the loan, but he is currently caught up in the High Court ruling over his citizenship and eligibility to sit in parliament.
The loan also needs the WA government's approval.
Mr Joyce says the proposal will increase the capacity of the Onslow marine supply base to allow bigger ships to refuel in the port.
By widening and deepening the channel and expanding the wharf, the proposed project will create a multi-user facility which is anticipated to help deliver more than $100 million in economic benefit to the region and over 220 jobs, he said on Tuesday.
Proponents say the project will create up to 150 new permanent jobs and add between 250 and 375 new residents to Onslow – about half as much again as the town's existing population.
But the NAIF decision has already attracted criticisms from green groups because it will be used to support gas and oil extraction.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific says most Australians would prefer to see taxpayer money spent on renewable energy or schools and hospitals.
Our worst fears about the NAIF have been confirmed with this announcement: it's clear now that the NAIF is simply a slush fund set up to funnel taxpayers' money into fossil fuel projects, the group's climate and energy campaigner, Nikola Casule, said.
Environmental Justice Australia lawyer David Barnden asked whether the government facility considered climate risks in looking at the project.
Commercial banks would most likely have found the Onslow project, which services fossil fuel extraction projects, too risky to support, but NAIF's investment mandate is very weak and loose, he said.
Labor frontbencher Jason Clare said it was about bloody time NAIF made a decision.
He both called on Mr Joyce to approve it as quickly as possible and cast doubt on the minister's ability to do so.
The High Court is currently hearing the case of whether Mr Joyce is eligible to be in parliament after it was revealed he held New Zealand citizenship through his father being born there.
This AAP story was published by WA Today on 10 October 2017