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PM comes out in defence of controversial reef grant

PM Malcolm Turnbull has defended his decision to grant the small reef foundation almost half a billion dollars

The Prime Minister has come out in defence of his decision to allocate a $444 million grant to the small Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) amid mounting criticisms.

Malcolm Turnbull said he noted the criticisms made by former board member, Michael Myer, but claimed that his “captain’s call” was widely welcomed and was processed and allocated under the correct procedures within parliament.

“It went through a full cabinet process, it was in the budget, it was in the appropriation bills that the parliament passed, so it has been legislated,” he told reporters.

He added that the substantial funds would maintain the health of the reef: “So it has been widely welcomed, it is a very thorough process, and it is one I think Australians who care about the Great Barrier Reef, and I think almost all do, should, welcome.”

This defence comes after the Australian National Audit Office said it was considering investigating the controversial grant, listing it as a “potential inquiry” in 2018/19. The ANAO said it would examine the governance arrangements to support the funds.

Department of Defences Minister, Christopher Pyne, said the grant went through the normal processes.

“We wanted to get that money out there, doing its work. And that is what Malcolm Turnbull has done,” he told the media.

“It certainly wasn’t his call. It was the call of the government through the expenditure review committee. And it’s amazing to me that Labor is criticising trying to fix the Great Barrier Reef.”

It was also revealed that it took only 11 days for Turnbull to allocate the funds to the small foundation after an Expenditure Review Committee.

Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, has come out in defence of the grant but has refused to answer why there was no competitive tender process: “It was a good idea … there’s nothing to hide here. Why we chose this organisation was because it was pre-eminent in raising funds from the private sector.”

The foundation said it had raised $90 million but Labor spokesperson, Tony Burke, said its annual reports don’t add up to this figure, and noted the website changed to say it had raised 64 per cent of the $90 million from corporate and private philanthropy.

The Australian revealed that the GBRF spent 42.5c in every dollar it raised on administration costs in the decade leading up to the grant.

“The claims that the foundation has been making, that they were raising all of this money from private sources, are simply not true,” Burke told reporters. “This entire gift – of the privatisation of the Great Barrier Reef – has been based on a lie.”

The funding, announced in April, has since been under scrutiny with a Senate inquiry since revealing that the money was offered to the charity in a private meeting between Turnbull, Frydenberg and the chairman of the GBRF.

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