Sector Suspicious Over Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s First Project
21 January 2019 at 4:32 pm
The first project announcement by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation since being awarded a controversial $443 million grant, has been labelled a double handling exercise by conservationists, once again calling into question the legitimacy of the grant funding.
The foundation announced on Monday its first project would award the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) $574,000, through the ReefTrust partnership created by the government, to undertake a 25-day health survey of remote parts of the reef.
In addition to the grant from GBRF, AIMS also put in $833,000 of its own money to fund the research trip which will monitor potential bleaching, and signs that surviving coral has developed increased tolerance to warmer waters.
GBRF managing director Anna Marsden said the findings of the survey would be used to inform future monitoring, and would not have been able to go ahead without the investment of the government.
“The foundation looks forward to delivering on our objectives over the life of the partnership,” Marsden said.
The project announcement follows the release of an audit report, which found the government had applied insufficient scrutiny to the grant process.
Lissa Schindler, Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) Great Barrier Reef campaign manager, told Pro Bono News while any work or research on how to save and preserve the reef was welcome, the money for AIMS’ work should not have come from the foundation.
“This is an ongoing project that really shouldn’t need funding from the foundation. It should be funded from the government,” Schindler said.
She said that considering it was taxpayer dollars the government agency was receiving, it should be managed by the government itself.
“It’s really concerning for me actually that the government agencies need to be going to this private organisation asking for money. These are taxpayer dollars, which should really be managed by the government,” she said.
“It’s just double handling.”
Shadow environment minister, Tony Burke also criticised the move, and told Pro Bono News AIMS was always one of the agencies that should have been directly funded, rather than it going to a private organisation.
“It is ludicrous that AIMS had to ask permission of a small private foundation to be able to access taxpayers’ funds to care for the reef,” Burke said.
He said all the government had done by awarding the foundation money was to give it the right to pocket the money for administration fees, which the audit revealed could be as much as $86 million.
If elected, he said Labor would demand all remaining funds and interest be returned.
“We will then seek advice from the environment department on how to best reallocate the remaining funds with every cent going to the reef,” he said.
Schindler said while AMCS were supportive of the money being handed back to the government, it was important it went to a fund that managed the money for the public good.
“If Labor gets in the next federal election, we don’t want to see the money get taken back and then just sit there not doing anything,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of controversy around the foundation and then receiving this money, and at the end of the day we just want to see the reef protected and managed well.”