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Small Reef foundation to receive $22.5m in taxpayer funds, amid grant controversy

The small Great Barrier Reef Foundation is set to pocket at least $22 million of taxpayer money as part of the $444 million government grant

The government has dispensed $22.5 million of taxpayer’s money in Australia’s largest single Great Barrier Reef funding package, sparking fresh concerns over the deal.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation is set to pocket interest earned on the record-large fund, despite previous claims all interest would be directed to reef projects. This follows the lack of a tender process for the $444 million government grant.

Queensland Labor Senator, Anthony Chisholm, said that the foundations reliance on the interest payments “means they should come clean about where the money will be invested and how it will be accounted for” in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH).

Chisholm added that the lack of transparency “only raises more questions about how the government is spending public money”.

According to Department of the Environment and Energy documents, a proportion of the funding can be spent on administrative costs. This includes a “direct payment” of $22.5 million, supplemented by interest earned on the funding.

Both Labor and the Greens have opposed the grant, calling for a senate inquiry to examine the funding. Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson argued the government used the funds to clear itself of key environmental responsibilities.

“In this case we have seen them outsource the control of the purse strings for reef science and repair, and in other cases we have seen the government seek funds from the private sector to save endangered species or help manage its own national parks.

“There can’t be any more important task for the Australian government than being steward of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the true natural wonders of the world, and with this Senate inquiry we will get to the bottom of what it means to have had this funding redirected away from the existing public agencies,” Whish-Wilson said.

A spokesperson for the foundation, Fiona Sugden, told the SMH that the money allocated for administration and governance “will be capped.”

“As we have always said we are committed to ensuring as much as possible from this record investment goes directly to the reef,” Sugden added. “Protecting and restoring the reef for the future is our mission.”

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