Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment

February 20, 2019

I reckon a lot of people don't think much about Efic, the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation. I have to confess that I didn't know a lot about it until several years ago when I got to spend some time working with Efic, with the corporation, and learning what they do. The people who do know about it, exporters, those who've really worked hard to find finance for overseas projects that they're involved in from Australia, know that it is really a key quiet achiever, assisting Australian businesses with financing and insurance to help them expand their reach internationally.

We obviously support the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment (Support for Infrastructure Financing) Bill 2019 to expand the remit of Efic in this place. But we look forward to it being sent to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.

There are two things that this bill does. One is to change Efic's name to Export Finance Australia. I'm sorry, but I'm a bit sad to see the old name go; I like the name 'Efic', and I don't think 'Efa' has quite the same ring to it! So I'm a bit sad about that, but I know it will continue to bridge the gap in financing for entrepreneurial Australians who can see export and overseas opportunities. The main change in this bill is giving Efic an extra billion dollars in funding to finance infrastructure investments in the Pacific region, and that includes East Timor. This is a $1 billion hit—a big amount of money—of callable capital to individual countries or companies, being provided at a commercial rate. It's a change because, currently, Efic can only fund projects on its commercial account when it's an export opportunity with a defined minimum of one-third Australian content and Australian job creation measures. Under this bill we get what's called an Australian benefits test, which means it must have a benefit to Australia or a person carrying out business or other activities in Australia—so it is a change in the way that they need to think. I see that the change also means that projects can use local content and local labour. When we're talking about the Pacific, that counts as real development benefits for the host countries.

I do want to point out that there is a strong shared view about the need for Australia to provide funding for projects in the Pacific. In October last year, the Leader of the Opposition announced that we would encourage the private sector to invest in projects, in much the same way as New Zealand, the US and Japan are doing or are considering doing, and that Labor would actually facilitate concessional loans or financing for vital nation-building projects. This is about being a partner of choice for Pacific development, and I think we're all very mindful that that has huge benefits for this nation as well as for our neighbours. I think it goes a long way to enhancing security and prosperity in our region. I was very pleased to see that, less than 10 days after the opposition leader's announcement, we had similar words coming from the Prime Minister announcing both this extra funding for Efic and the creation of the infrastructure financing facility for the Pacific and Timor-Leste.

What the Senate work will allow for is an exploration of how Efic will provide the loan component for that new facility, to ensure there are no unintended consequences and to see if there's a better structure. There are concerns in the investment community about the size of the additional capital for Efic and what consequences that has for the quality of projects that might flow from it. This is also a big change for Efic—a different way of thinking. Until now, it has focused on projects that are in Australia's interests. This bill is now asking it to assess projects that are in another country's interests. I think big changes deserve careful consideration.

We do have a real responsibility, as the biggest of the Pacific Islands, to help them tackle the challenges that come from climate change, a lack of health facilities and other gaps in infrastructure. We need to do it right. I refer to something the member for Braddon said. In her words: 'You really can't have a Pacific policy if you haven't got a climate change policy.' Hopefully, we will see those things put in place so we can do the best by our Pacific neighbours.