Greens will force NRF changes to prevent fossil fuel investment

Brandon How

The Greens will seek changes to enabling legislation for the National Reconstruction Fund to prevent it from becoming a $15 billion “slush fund for fossil fuel finance”.

Seizing on an opportunity created by the Coalition’s decision to oppose the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) Corporation Bill, the Greens plan to move amendments to prohibit the fund from investing in oil and gas projects.

It will also seek to ensure investments through the fund otherwise align with the government’s legislated climate targets. Further amendments will be sought once the bill reaches the Senate.

Without the support of the Coalition, the government will need buy-in from the Greens and two independent senators for its bill to pass Parliament.

The Coalition also plans to seek amendments to the bill both houses, although they are yet to be determined. They are expected to finalise the details of any proposed amendments following the completion of the senate inquiry.

Greens leader Adam Bandt on Wednesday expressed concern that a lack of detail in the legislation for the NRF would reverse progress on tackling climate change.

“There is an unacceptable level of risk with this legislation that this government, or subsequent governments, have almost unlimited discretion to declare ‘priority areas’ for a gas-fired recovery or a coal mine renaissance,” he said.

“There is a serious possibility that this $15 billion fund could be turned into a ministerial vessel for fossil fuel finance.

“There is nothing in the legislation itself to prevent investment in coal and gas, or in projects that would lock in and extend the use of coal and gas. Anything the Government of the day chooses to support could be declared NRF priorities in the future.”

Greens spokesperson for Industry, Transition, and Regional Development, Senator Penny Allman-Payne, acknowledge the need to boost investment in domestic manufacturing but also called for greater environmental protections.

“Australian manufacturing is in dire need of investment. Under the Coalition the economy became less diverse, reduced to digging things up, chopping things down and shipping them out,” Ms Allman-Payne said.

“A central role of government should be investing in nation-building projects and that’s why we support getting public money where it needs to be.

“But in the absence of clear guardrails that dictate what the fund can be used for there is a strong possibility that the NRF could be turned into a ministerial slush fund for fossil fuel finance.

During debate on enabling legislation for Australia’s Economic Accelerator, Liberal MP Angie Bell claimed the NRF would be “just a slush bucket to reward [the government’s] union mates and fund their election commitments”.

During question time in parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese rebutted the claims. He said the fund would operate at arm’s length from government, with investment decision decided by an independent board like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Members of the NRF Corporation board will be appointed by Industry minister Ed Husic. This is a similar process as appointments of board members of the CEFC, which are made by the Finance minister and Energy minister.

The NRF is a replacement for the Coalition’s flagship Modern Manufacturing Initiative, which awarded $828 million, of the earmarked $1.3 billon, in the run up to the 2022 election.

The grants were all reviewed and approved by Labor after the election, but many are still yet to be signed off by the Industry department.

With Justin Hendry

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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