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Reef grant audit needed: Environment boss

Australia’s top environment bureaucrat wants an investigation ASAP into the decision to grant $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation

The $444 million grant given to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation should be investigated as a priority, the Environment Department boss says.

Environment Department Secretary, Finn Pratt, has written to the Auditor-General asking him to bring forward a proposed audit of the controversial grant due to increased public and media attention.

“I consider such an audit has become a priority and ask that you consider approving it going ahead and starting as soon as practicable,” Pratt wrote on Monday.

The government is under mounting pressure over its decision to grant the funds to the foundation without a competitive tender process.

Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, told Parliament the Environment Department found the grant represented “value for money”, and added it was “not unusual” to be given without a tender process.

He said the partnership had been established through a grant agreement which met all the relevant government laws and rules for a grants process.

Earlier, Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director, Anna Marsden, said no one from the government contacted her, or anyone else, about a due diligence process.

“I wasn’t (contacted). I wasn’t aware that the diligence process was underway, no,” she told ABC radio, adding that no one else in the foundation was asked either.

Marsden said she heard some details about the due diligence process while listening to a Senate inquiry looking into the grant.

“I’m certainly told – and I heard department officials in the inquiry hearing – say that they undertook significant diligence on the foundation,” Marsden said.

Marsden added that the foundation learned on April 9 that it would receive the money and “afterwards we had to do an application”.

That was the day she and foundation Chair, John Schubert, attended a private meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Frydenberg and his Environment Department Secretary, Finn Pratt.

“We had to certainly demonstrate value for money and our track record,” Marsden said of the retrospective application.

Senior Labor MP, Tony Burke, is concerned Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) reef scientists might have to go through the foundation instead of the government for funding.

“This deal, from beginning to end, has been an inappropriate and dodgy use of taxpayer money,” Burke said.

Labor has since called for the grant to be handed back.

The foundation’s partners include businesses like Qantas and BHP and institutions such as ANU and the federal Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

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