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Reef grant ‘fabulous news’: foundation chairman

An inquiry into the controversial $443.3 million grant will hear from the chairman and directors of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Great Barrier Reef Foundation chairman Dr John Schubert has said the controversial federal government grant of $443.3 million is “fabulous news” for the reef.

Schubert is one of seven foundation representatives to be giving evidence to a Senate committee in Canberra on Tuesday.

The inquiry is seeking details on why the government granted the six-year funding stream to the foundation without going to tender, and how the foundation plans to use the money.

“You asked was I surprised … but my overwhelming initial reaction was: ‘This is fabulous news for the Great Barrier Reef. This is what is needed’,” Schubert said when asked about his reaction to receiving the grant.

Schubert said the reef faced ongoing threats against climate change and needed to be protected.

“We have recognised very openly the climate change is the greatest threat to our Great Barrier Reef. We have consistently said that and we will keep doing so,” Schubert said.

“I think the vast majority of Australians now understand that the reef really is threatened and is already being damaged by climate change.”

Critics of the grant have also raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest and commercial interests, given the foundation has a number of corporate backers from the resources sector.

The foundation told the inquiry it had projects due to start in 2019.

It said it was confident of leveraging the funding to raise more money from the private sector to protect the reef.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been heavily criticised for his decision for handing GBRF the million dollar grant.

The Chairman of the Senate committee, Peter Whish-Wilson, said in August that the former Prime Minister could be summoned when he resigns his seat on Friday to speak on why he gifted the huge grant to the private sector-backed foundation.

“I want to know exactly what was discussed, and where did the idea start. It didn’t just materialise. Someone has come up with the idea and driven it at the highest level,” Whish-Wilson said.

Turnbull has come out in defence of the grant prior, insisting: “It went through a full cabinet process, it was in the budget, it was in the appropriate bills that the parliament passed, so it has been legislated.”

Scott Morrison told Parliament in July that he fully endorsed the grant decision and said the foundation – whose board includes corporate heavyweights and scientists – could find better ways to spend the money rather than the government’s own public servants.

It is expected that also the Morrison government will feel the heat with the government’s credibility coming under scrutiny as a result of the inquiry.

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