Australia eyes institutions for $1bn infra and agri fund

The fund will back infrastructure and agricultural projects, and could double Australia's agricultural output.

Australia’s Northern Territory government is targeting A$800 million (£378 million; €525 million) from institutional investors to back a A$1 billion fund investing in infrastructure and agricultural projects in the state.

The Northern Territory infrastructure development fund will be capitalised with an initial A$215 million from the recent A$424 million sale of the government-owned Territory Insurance Office to Allianz. However, the territory is eyeing institutional investors for the bulk of the financing.

The first fund of its type in Australia will seek to invest in a diversified portfolio of infrastructure-related projects, including agricultural projects. “The fund will be used to invest in infrastructure projects across the territory – creating revenue for the fund, essential infrastructure for Territorians and new jobs across the whole economy,” Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles said in a statement.

As part of the fund’s strategy, the government is proposing to develop a food centre of excellence which could help double Australia’s agricultural output. A discussion paper produced by the regional government also foresees investment from the fund growing Australia’s exports of technical skills related to resources and agriculture “into a A$7 billion a year industry”.

In order to attract investment, the “potential returns to private investors” will be a key criteria used to assess projects and determine whether they go ahead, according to a government factsheet.

With agriculture in the north of the country central to the Australian economy, the national government has unveiled a series of measures in recent months designed to boost agricultural output in the region.

In May the former prime minister Tony Abbott pledged A$100 million in funding to improve roads in the north used by the region’s burgeoning beef industry as part of a A$1.7 billion federal funding package aimed at developing agriculture in northern Australia.

And in July the national government released its long-awaited white paper on developing northern Australia, which included A$75 million for a new co-operative research centre which will have a strong agriculture focus, and $200 million for capital investment in water infrastructure in the north.  Present water infrastructure in the region can only access 10 per cent of all arable land, according to the paper, underscoring the significant untapped potential of the region.