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Turnbull points finger at Morrison for controversial $444m grant

Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed it was largely Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to give the small Reef foundation $444 million

Ousted Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed the controversial grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation was largely successor Scott Morrison’s decision.

In a letter obtained by The Australian, Turnbull wrote to Greens Senator and Chair of the inquiry, Peter Whish-Wilson, to inform him that the Environmental Department’s initial funding proposals for the Reef were rejected by the Coalition government.

However, an “alternative proposal” was bought forward to create a reef fund with the foundation, to be funded in the 2017-18 financial year with “appropriate governance”.

“This approach was taken because the Treasurer [Morrison] and Finance Minister [Mathias Cormann] were open to funding a substantial package for the reef as long as it was expensed in 2017-18,” Turnbull wrote.

He added that this was because government revenues were “promisingly strong” in 2017-18 and they believed the budget could accommodate the substantial investment proposed for the Reef, but “that may not be so in subsequent years”.

“This was the reason why a partner outside the Commonwealth Government sector was sought; it also brought with it the possibility of leveraging the Commonwealth’s contribution with private sector contributions,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull was called before the Senate inquiry in August but largely ignored Whish-Wilson’s comments for him to answer to the grant. In his letter, Turnbull addressed his role in the grant, explaining that Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, “asked me to join him in a meeting” with the foundations Chair, John Schubert.

The talking points for this meeting revealed that further payments for the reef “may also be made over the life of the partnership”, meaning more than the initial $443.3 million grant could be given to the foundation.

Morrison took responsibility for this grant recently when it was found he argued for the funds up front out of concern that not doing so would jeopardise the government’s chances of getting the budget back into surplus as promised in 2019-20.

Despite Liberal’s ongoing insistence that the money was granted under the proper process, Labor has promised to return the grant if they are elected.

Whish-Wilson confirmed Turnbull’s response confirmed Morrison’s and Cormann’s role in determining the amount of the grant and the budget tactics.

“But we are still none the wiser as to whose idea it was to give the money to this small private foundation in the first place. It seems like no-one wants to take responsibility for this,” Whish-Wilson told The Australian.

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