ADJOURNMENT SPEECH: Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility

Jun 15, 2017

Mr CONROY (Shortland) (19:30): For over 100 years, Australians of all political persuasions have been passionate about the untapped potential of northern Australia, an area of great size, magnificent resources and awe-inspiring natural beauty that is relatively sparsely populated. It was in this vein that Labor were unanimous in our support for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. This fund, if well designed and well run, has the potential to help develop northern Australia and increase its contribution to the Australian economy. However, if it is to do this, the NAIF must have sound governance and be scrupulously apolitical in its operation. If the NAIF becomes the political plaything or mouthpiece of one political party, it is doomed to fail. Sadly, the current composition of the directors gives this appearance.

Before I turn to this specific concern, I need to highlight my deep reservations regarding the governance of the NAIF. Compared to similar organisations such as the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the NAIF lacks strong governance arrangements. The shortfalls are most obvious in poor or nonexistent development of policies required by its establishing legislation, limited public information about applications and assessment processes, weak disclosure and consultation requirements, and only having nine staff. It is no exaggeration to say that large community organisations have stronger governance arrangements than the NAIF. I am worried that my local bowls club has better governance than the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. This governance failure makes it imperative that the parliament and the people of Australia have full confidence in the board of the NAIF, and I regret to say I do not. I do not have confidence in the minister, Senator Canavan, who oversees the NAIF.

The minister’s maladministration is best demonstrated by his appointment to the NAIF board of his friend Karla Way-McPhail. This was a partisan appointment of a person with obvious potential conflicts of interest, as she leads two mining supply companies that may benefit from NAIF funded projects. What is more egregious than the potential conflict of interest is Ms Way-McPhail’s hyperpartisanship. Ms Way-McPhail regularly attends Liberal National Party fundraisers and has donated to the LNP. She has made the following public comments:

… a vote for the ALP = a vote for the Greens = a vote for the end of the Resource Sector ….. no miner or secondary industry that supports mining would even consider voting for these anti mining political parties !!!!! The silence by our State members on supporting mining is deafening !!!! But they are very happy to use Union funds from the industry to support their campaigns !!!! Unbelievable they are making a fool of the genuine hard working Miner ….. and laughing while they do it !!!!

In another post she stated:

… it is unbelievable to me that anyone in Coal would be a member of the Union or vote for the ALP !!! My husband and I both were Union members and voted ALP ….. wouldn’t dream of it now ….. both of them are dictating the industry closure !!!!

These are horribly false and offensive statements, and they were made after her appointment to the NAIF board. They reflect a complete failure to understand current Labor policies and our achievements in government. As a proud representative of Australia’s original and greatest coal community, I utterly reject them.

Ms Way-McPhail has every right to make these statements in a free country. However, this is grossly inappropriate for a director of a $5 billion government entity. It completely undermines the bipartisan nature of the NAIF, reducing confidence in an organisation tasked with helping develop the North. Ms Way-McPhail’s behaviour as a Liberal National Party lackey renders her completely unfit to remain a NAIF director. She should resign immediately and, if she fails to resign, Minister Canavan should terminate her appointment under section 21 of the NAIF Act and section 30 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act. This is because Ms Way-McPhail is clearly breaching sections 26 and 27 of the PGPA Act, as she is causing detriment to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

This is a test for Senator Canavan. Can he acknowledge he made a mistake when he appointed his LNP mate, Ms Way-McPhail? Can he understand that maintaining the apolitical status of the NAIF and ensuring the development of northern Australia are bipartisan and are more important than supporting an LNP donor? If he cannot recognise and act on this then he should resign as well.

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