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Environment Minister insists $443m Great Barrier Reef grant followed right guidelines

Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, said the government has been praised for its decision to give almost half a billion dollars to a small Great Barrier Reef foundation

The Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, has defended the government’s decision to grant a small not-for-profit an almost half a billion dollar grant.

The controversy comes as the Prime Minister is being pressed to answer to a Senate inquiry as to why a grant of this size was given to the small Great Barrier Reef Foundation without the competitive tender process. Frydenberg has now insisted guidelines were followed.

Asked if it was standard practice for the government to give a $443 million grant to small foundations without a tender process, Frydenberg said there was “a lot of transparency.”

“This is the largest single investment via government in reef preservation and conservation and the only reason the Labor party is raising this is because they abandoned the reef when they were in office,” Frydenberg told ABC’s 7.30 program.

“There is a lot of transparency. There is a public agreement. As I said, the Audit Office will continue to be able to follow the money, you’ve got compliance with the governance guidelines, it’s an organisation which the Labor party contributed to, and it has some of Australia’s leading scientists and those who are involved in philanthropic organisations, so it is a very reputable partner for the commonwealth.”

Frydenberg said Labor was only pushing the matter before the inquiry as it had abandoned its responsibility for the reef, saying it ended up on the endangered watch list while Labor was in office. He added the Coalition has been praised for the management of the reef.

Frydenberg said he would have welcomed a Labor commitment of this size had they been in power instead.

Credit: Josh Frydenberg

“We would welcome that sort of commitment from the Labor party because we never saw it when they were in office. It has only been the Coalition who has put in place the $2 billion reef 2050 plan with the Queensland government, made this record $500 million commitment, which has been praised even by UNESCO.”

He added that the Great Barrier Reef Foundation was chosen as it has been around for nearly two decades and Labor contributed while they were in office. He also cited that the foundation has raised $80 million themselves and has the support of leading scientists.

On top of this, he insists there have been several meetings between the department and the foundation, and adds a public servant was present during them.

“My department, including my Secretary, have had more than 20 meetings since early April with the foundation, and like I said, the Commonwealth and the state government will be consulted on investment decisions.”

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