Subsidised loan to Onslow Marine Support Base is first from controversial $5bn Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility
The expansion of a port in Western Australia’s north is the first project to be given the green-light for a subsidised loan from the controversial $5bn Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (Naif).
The decision has raised the ire of environmentalists and focused attention on Adani’s massive Carmichael coalmine in Queensland, where Naif is considering a loan for the project.
The $16.8m loan to the Onslow Marine Support Base is designed to support the huge offshore oil and gas industry in the Pilbara, where BHP and Chevron are active. By providing services such as refuelling, vessel loading and unloading and waste reception, the base is designed to improve the competitiveness of the offshore oil and gas industry in the region.
The loan is the first one backed by Naif, which gave the recommendation to the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, on 29 September – after which he has 21 days to approve or veto the loan.
Naif did not respond to queries about the loan, but a spokesman for Joyce confirmed it, as did Andrew Natta, the managing director of Onslow Marine Support Base Pty Ltd.
The move has been attacked by environment groups, and has focused attention on the roughly $1bn Naif is considering loaning to Adani to build a railway to support its proposed coalmine, which the government expects a recommendation on before the end of the year.
David Barnden, a lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, which has campaigned strongly against Adani’s proposed mine, and any government support for it, described the new recommended loan as a fossil fuel subsidy.
He questioned whether the loan was consistent with Australia’s climate commitments, or with commercial best-practice requirements.
“Australians have a right to know whether Naif considered climate change risks and whether the loan is consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” Barnden said.
“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.”
Basha Stasak from the Australian Conservation Foundation said the loan confirmed their worst fears about Naif, describing it as “a slush fund for the dirty fossil fuel industry”.
“At the same time as this announcement, Naif is considering whether to bankroll Adani’s dirty coal project with a massive $1bn handout of public money,” Stasak said. “These fossil fuel projects will hasten global warming, contribute to further coral bleaching and threaten our Great Barrier Reef and northern Australian communities.
“Australians should have no confidence in an organisation that has pledged its allegiance to the polluting fossil fuel industry instead of the Great Barrier Reef and the communities that depend on its survival.”
Labor’s spokesman for resources and Northern Australia Jason Clare welcomed the news, saying it should have happened earlier.
“If the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has finally made a decision – it should be signed off by Barnaby Joyce immediately,” Clare said.
“At last it appears the Naif has finally made a decision. It is about bloody time.”
By Michael Slezak
This story was published by Guardian Australia on 10 October 2017