Record Grant to Great Barrier Reef Charity Comes Under Senate Scrutiny
2 August 2018 at 4:01 pm
The $443.8 million grant given to a small Great Barrier Reef charity has come under increasing scrutiny at a Senate inquiry, with revelations no environment department officials were present at a meeting which led to the record grant.
Anna Marsden, the managing director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, told a Senate inquiry this week the charity was informed of the government grant during a meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, and energy department secretary Finn Pratt.
But she later admitted in a letter to the enquiry the information about Pratt being present in the meeting was wrong.
The Prime Minister’s ‘private meeting’ with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, when he offered them $444m of public funding, was more private than first thought. It now turns out that there were no public servants present. Just Turnbull, Frydenberg & GBRF Chair Dr John Schubert. pic.twitter.com/LfDVVsvglx
— Kristina Keneally (@KKeneally) August 1, 2018
“In the hearing I stated that the secretary of the Department of Environment and Energy, Mr Finn Pratt, attended the meeting with our chair on 9 April 2018. This is incorrect, Mr Pratt was not present in this meeting,” the letter said.
The Senate inquiry is investigating why the foundation, which had just six members at the time, was awarded the funding in the first place, and whether it has the means to undertake the government’s 2050 reef plan.
Marsden told the hearing the foundation was first informed of the plan in the April meeting, and did “not suggest or make any application for this funding”.
This comes after criticism from Labor, the Greens and crossbench senators over what due diligence was done before the foundation was awarded the funding.
The $443.8 million grant has been described as “the biggest single grant to the reef in Australian history”.
Shadow environment minister Tony Burke attacked the government for a lack of process and transparency with the decision.
“Effectively half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money has been given away without process, probity or policy justification,” Burke said.
“The future of the reef should not be determined behind closed doors by Mr Turnbull’s mates.”
Fairfax also reported this week the organisation decided to reveal the names of the four founding members – Sir Sydney Schubert, Sir Ian McFarlane, John B Reid and David Windsor – after immense pressure from various parties.
The report said the revelation “confirms speculation” the late McFarlane, a Queensland shale oil developer, was on the list of the founders.
The organisation previously declined to reveal the founders.
Responding to the Senate inquiry, the spokesperson for the charity said the “managing director agreed to make further inquiries”.
They said the charity formed in 1999 with the intention to “bring science and business together with a common purpose of protecting the Great Barrier Reef”.
The charity is currently chaired by John Schubert, a former chair of Esso Australia and the Commonwealth Bank, while the chairman’s panel includes executives from BHP, Rio Tinto, AGL, Orica and major banks NAB, ANZ, and Commonwealth Bank.