Monday, 13 August 2018
Questions without Notice
Great Barrier Reef Foundation
My question is to the Leader of the Government, representing the Prime Minister. Minister, the chairman's panel of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation is made up of a who's who of the coal, oil and gas industry. The other thing that is common to these companies is the number of them that are Liberal and National Party donors. Collectively, the companies represented on the foundation have donated well over $10 million to the Liberal and National parties. Minister, how else can you explain the Prime Minister giving away nearly half a billion dollars of public money to these companies, completely unsolicited and without a tender process, other than as a thank you for their extraordinarily generous donations to your party?
Firstly, the reason the government has made this significant investment is a demonstration of our commitment to the future health of the Great Barrier Reef, a very important national asset. When the former Minister for the Environment, Mr Tony Burke, provided funding to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, he said:
The foundation protects and preserves the Reef by coordinating strategic research in such areas as reef resilience and climate change.
… … …
Funding available through Caring for our Country and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation will ensure that the Reef's unique values are protected.
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation was established in 2000. The foundation has a record delivering on-ground benefits to the reef, working with a diverse range of reef stakeholders. The foundation has experience managing a diverse range of reef projects—projects which include saving endangered green turtles, restoring damaged reef ecosystems and investments in science to help corals adapt to a changing climate. The foundation has robust corporate and financial governance systems and processes. They have demonstrated their ability to deliver government funding appropriately—including, of course, funding provided by the previous Labor government. The foundation attracts substantial funding from the private sector. The government is seeking to build on and to leverage our contribution because the reef deserves that level of support.
The government approached the foundation in April 2018 to ascertain their interest in establishing the partnership. Since the announcement of the grant, the Department of the Environment and Energy has also at numerous meetings engaged with the foundation in person and by phone. This new funding to the foundation will go towards meeting our targets in the Reef 2050 plan as advised by our existing reef advisory bodies. Of course, this now brings— (Time expired)
The companies represented on the Great Barrier Reef Foundation—Peabody, Origin, BHP, AGL, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Rio Tinto and Wesfarmers—all make a buck from burning or selling coal. The grant agreement for this money requires the foundation to focus on water quality and crown-of-thorns—all important—but, incredibly, there's no work required on climate change, the single biggest threat to the reef. Is this just a coincidence, or is it more about ensuring that you give large handouts to your corporate mates?
This is an investment through a not-for-profit foundation. Of course, as you know, Senator Di Natale, it's an investment that received bipartisan support in this chamber. Of course, it was passed into law during the last sitting fortnight. This is an important part of our overall response. Of course, it is not the only thing that government does whether it is in relation to climate change in general or in relation to the Great Barrier Reef in particular, but it is an important commitment which brings the government's overall commitment to protecting the Great Barrier Reef now to $1.2 billion since the 2014-15 budget—something that I would have thought that anyone who cares about the future health and resilience of the reef would have applauded the government for providing.
National resource management bodies are currently spending a fortune on tender applications with extraordinary levels of probity and, at the same time, they've been starved of funding and they're having to let staff go. Will the government give security to them along with the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and put this nearly half a billion dollars of public money out to tender properly?
As I've indicated—and perhaps that answer wasn't very clear—the parliament has already legislated to provide this funding to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Indeed, it was legislated with bipartisan support through this chamber. It's a very important additional investment into the future health of the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, as far as the other parts of the question are concerned, the government will continue to comply and work consistent with all of the relevant rules governing government procurements.