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Former Reef foundation director condemns government’s $444m grant

Former board member, Michael Myer, said the decision to grant almost half a billion dollars to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation was “shocking”

A former director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) has condemned the government’s decision to grant the small organisation $444 million.

Michael Myer said the decision to grant the money without the proper tender process was “shocking and almost-mind blowing”, as it is found environmental ministers claim the government broke its own rules in gifting the fund to the small foundation.

“The notion of an organisation with six staff members suddenly having to manage $440 million, from a not-for-profit and philanthropic view is unheard of,” Myer told the ABC. “I think the government’s judgement is really poor.”

Myer was a financial supporter of the GBRF and a member of its board for two years, when he quit due to concerns over its corporate direction and the increasing involvement of people from the fossil fuel industry.

He added the original aim was to help scientists with reef research funding, adding: “I felt it was going to become a more corporate type of board, whereas I wanted to see a more activist type of board in terms of developing policies around the reef and having an influence on policy.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has been heavily criticised over the grant, and Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, told the GBRF Chairman about the grant 11 days after Cabinet’s expenditure review committee voted to seek a “commercial partner” for a reef conservation plan.

Myer said the government was “greenwashing” by giving the impression it was doing something for the reef through the GBRF, but not around climate change.

He condemned the decision to set aside $22 million for “scaling up activities” for administration, such as risk management plans to ensure that proper governance has been followed before the money was granted.

“In a normal tender process, if you were tendering a grant, you would have done that work upfront,” Myer said.

“You would have worked with your prudential authorities, you would have done your risk management, you would have shown how you were going to manage that money. But to be doing it as an afterthought, after the money has been given and it’s in the bank account, again is quite extraordinary.”

In a submission to the Senate inquiry in July, the Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) argued that a tender process should have been undertaken, referring to a document on the Department of Finance website that described a grant as when: “The recipient receives financial assistance from the Commonwealth to help achieve its goals.”

Even if it had been appropriately gifted, EJA also argued that the government had not properly administered the money to the foundation.

“On the evidence available to us, it appears the decision relating to granting the foundation $444 million was not impartial, not appropriately documented nor reported, and is certainly not publicly defensible.”

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