MEDIA RELEASE: THE GOVERNMENT CAN’T EXPLAIN THE PROCESS FOR HALF A BILLION DOLLARS OF REEF MONEY
THE GOVERNMENT CAN’T EXPLAIN THE PROCESS FOR HALF A BILLION DOLLARS OF REEF MONEY
This morning in Senate Estimates, the Department of Environment and Energy could not explain how or why $444 million is being allocated to one organisation, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. The budget for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation would be increased 45 times – their revenue for 2015 and 2016 was $9.6 million and $8 million respectively.
The funding is proposed to be given in one payment.
SENATOR KENEALLY: What I’m surprised most about Minister, is your cavalier attitude to the granting of $444 million of taxpayer money without a public grant process, an open and transparent process, a competitive process, or consideration whether the Authority could have carried out this work rather than the Foundation. A foundation that has 6 full-time members, and 5 part-time members who have described this grant as “like winning the lotto”. Surely you would agree that a commitment of half a billion dollars in taxpayer money should not be like winning the lotto for the grant recipients. They should have prior knowledge, they should be invited to compete for that funding and it should be done in a transparent way.
What we’ve learnt today is that the Government made a decision to give this Foundation the money, before they approached the board to discuss it. I haven’t heard anything that contradicts that.
SENATOR BIRMINGHAM: Senator, we haven’t sought to contradict that.
In relation to the governance of the Foundation, which is critical to making sure that the funding reaches the Reef, the Department said “it will be adjusted” to cope with a grant of this size. The Department also admitted to not knowing how many staff are currently employed by the Foundation and how many of these staff can administer grants.
This is the largest donation that any Australian Government has made to a single foundation for environmental projects.
The Government still can’t explain why the money went to the Foundation instead of being managed through the Department or the Marine Park Authority, nor can it explain why the decision was taken without the Foundation even being aware that it was being considered to carry out work on a scale completely beyond its historic capacity. With the Great Barrier Reef, Australia is responsible for one of the most precious environmental assets on the planet. Decisions over the reef’s future should not be chaotic, haphazard, and lacking in accountability.