SUBJECT: Government donation of $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation
KIEREN GILBERT (HOST): With us now is the Shadow Environment Minister Tony Burke and you heard a little of what Anna Marsden had to say there and get your thoughts on that but also the fact that Labor in 2012 gave, it was $12 million in the budget.
GILBERT: So this same foundation without a tender. So you thought they had merit then?
BURKE: No, they had merit to perform a specific research project and there was a specific research project dealing with particular strains of coral and the money - the proposal came from the Foundation. They asked for the support, it was assessed by the department, it ended up being included in the budget and then the payments were made on annual milestones. Not all at once, not all the money leaving on day one, but paid on milestones which were met and that research project came through as an effective role. We've never said the foundation has no role. What we have said though, is that the foundation should not be the replacement of the Marine Park Authority or the call work of the Environment Department, and that's exactly what's happening. You know, people say the Smith family does a good job but we don't put them in charge of our entire social service payments - Social Security payments - and that's exactly what's happened here. The full amount of money for the Great Barrier Reef, now has a gatekeeper who is a private foundation and if the CSIRO wants to conduct additional specific research on the Great Barrier Reef to get taxpayers money to do that, they have to get permission from a private foundation
GILBERT: Two points that Anna Marsden made there that specifically you should respond to. One, where she says that the CSIRO are there formulating the plans, where the money is going to be spent from the outset, so they’re the architects of these plans in terms of not going cap in hand, they’re there from the outset she says. The other point is, I'm interested in your thoughts, because UNESCO has said that charities should be set up nationally to try and scale up, leverage more money. That's what the Government's doing in terms of this, trying to leverage more funds from the government at the outset. The environment department’s not equipped to do that.
BURKE: Can I deal with these in turn. First of all, on the first issue with respect to CSIRO, you described them as the architects. I think that's a bit of a stretch. The truth is, the final decision on all of these plans is made by the foundation. They're the ones in charge of the final decisions on this. The fact that there is consultation with the environment department in consultation with CSIRO means this. It means we don't in fact save money on administration fees, we duplicate money. So all the work in assessing plans that the environment department would have to do if it were managing this directly, it has to do anyway. The work on designing projects at CSIRO would do if the money was given directly to them, they have to do anyway. The foundation on top of that, takes 10 percent for its own administrative – in its own administration fees, so $44 million of this money, walks straight out the door, never reaches the reef, goes directly to the Foundation for its own admin fees.
GILBERT: Not if they leverage more funding. They’ll end up with more.
BURKE: Well let's go to the point, that's the second point you raised with respect to their claims of how much extra money they've been able to leverage. Now last night, Anna Marsden repeated the claim about $90 million is what they have raised. That may be the case but they've never been able to establish that publicly. The evidence on an interview immediately before your program on radio that Anna Marsden gave, she said “No it's all audited and it's on the web page.” I went to the web page to verify that because I was surprised. All that is on the web page is a statement - a claim that they raise $90 million. The annual reports that they've got on the website do not add up to anywhere near that figure. Now, if they want to claim that they've raised $90 million they should have to justify it and show where they've raised it. When they were asked about this in the Senate inquiry, they took the question on notice and to this day they still haven't responded. So they claim they've raised only - just hear this Kieran, hear me out on this and then I'll stop on this point. If they claim they've raised $90 million across the entire life of the foundation, whatever they think they'll be able to leverage next needs to come off against the fact that they've immediately taken $44 million of taxpayers money for administration and spent it on themselves. 
GILBERT: You know that the world heritage convention that the UN, it recommends this sort of approach with charities to try and leverage more funds. How does the CSIRO, a wonderful organization, or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, again a wonderful organisation, but how do they leverage more funds those organisations are they are they equipped to do that sort of thing?
BURKE: Legislation was put through the Parliament in 2014. It was put through by the Abbott Government to establish a fund for this exact purpose and we were told when the legislation was introduced that it would be something, that there would be work done to make sure that the Abbott Government, and then later the Turnbull Government, would be leveraging corporate donations to it as well. That was their plan. That was legislation they put through the parliament. That's legislation that they've never taken a step back from and it's an entire process that they've now ignored and why have they ignored it? On the basis that there was a meeting of three people with no public servants where nearly half a billion dollars was committed and we found out only in today's papers in today's papers, in The Australian, it's been revealed that there had been a decision of the expenditure review committee something like 11 days earlier, which had told the prime minister to go out and find corporate partners, the Prime Minister and the environment minister, to find corporate partners. What we don't know is this. Did they go to anyone else? Or did they only go to the organisation where the Prime Minister was mates with members of the board, and offer them the half billion dollars.
GILBERT: If the foundation doesn't fund the restoration of the reef, which I think the vast bulk of people would agree needs to be a priority, you're talking hundreds of millions of dollars, you don't like the mechanism or the process, which of course has been messy, but how will Labor fund it?
BURKE: What we've said is that the money should be returned and you shouldn't even be waiting for the election. The money should be returned now and the Government should deal with it through the ordinary processes. The full amount of money should still be made available for the reef, but if you don't do the duplication of administration you've immediately got $40 million additional that goes to the reef and they've shown no capacity that they're going to be leveraging more than that in terms of private donations and the work of the Foundation would continue.
GILBERT: Labor would give and dedicate at least this much money to the restoration of the reef?
BURKE: We have not said that the money should, on return, go to any other purpose so I don't think anyone would argue that the money once returned should go anywhere but the Great Barrier Reef but you will get more money, you will get a better outcome for the Great Barrier Reef, if you're not giving a donation for administration purposes of $44 million. When I saw that in the contract I thought it's only an upper limit but last night on television the foundation confirmed they intend it will be. They said 90 cents in every dollar, will be what goes to the reef. They've immediately gone to the maximum they're allowed to take it for administration and said they're taking the lot.
GILBERT: But have you have you met with the charity?  Because as I say you've worked with them before when Wayne Swan was treasurer in 2012 giving them $12.5 million at that point. Have you met with them and if not will you?
BURKE: I haven't met with them since the announcement of the grant but I have met with them as I say they have a role within the Great Barrier Reef. They have a role and they have played a good and constructive role. But what the Turnbull Government is doing right now is trying to effectively privatize the management of the most precious and fragile environmental asset we have - that's the Great Barrier Reef. Now for all their good work, no one has ever claimed nor have they claimed that they were capable of being the gate keeper for all the Commonwealth money that goes to the Great Barrier Reef projects and that's exactly what they've become. That's why they didn't ask it because it never occurred to them that they had the capacity to do it. There are organisations already set up which have been working on these projects for years and that's where the money should be going. There no doubt will continue from time to time to be small discrete projects that are appropriate for the foundation and they leverage additional money on, but the thought that a CSIRO scientist will have to get permission from a private foundation to be able to run a research project, paid for entirely by taxpayer money is abhorrent and that's the scandal that we're facing now.
GILBERT: Well we've heard the different take on that from Anna Marsden who says it's more of a partnership in that process, but regardless we're out of time. Tony Burke I thank you as always for your time, Shadow Environment Minister.
BURKE: Thanks Kieran.


Tony Burke