Tuesday, 14 August 2018
Questions without Notice
Great Barrier Reef Foundation
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. Today's Daily Telegraph reveals that the Great Barrier Reef Foundation treated private sector CEOs and executives from its chairman's panel to a three-day luxury holiday at the qualia resort on Hamilton Island in May, which reportedly charges more than $2,000 a night. This trip was organised by the private foundation just days after the Turnbull government announced in late April its $444 million grant to this private foundation without a grant application or a tender process. Is this what the government means when it says 'the private foundation has a strong record in leveraging private-sector and philanthropic donations'?
I wonder whether the next question is going to be about Mr Shorten's $17,000 freebie where he went snorkelling around the Great Barrier Reef. I think that's where Mr Shorten is alleged to have made certain commitments. He didn't make or did make—we still don't know; he was his typical shifty self.
I'm not aware of all of the activities undertaken by the particular foundation. What I am aware of, because I happened to watch the interview with Geoff Cousins on the 7.30 Report, is when Mr Cousins laid out in great detail the alleged commitments that Bill Shorten made to him and then reneged on.
I don't know why the Labor Party is so obsessed with a $443 million investment in the health of the Great Barrier Reef, which they supported. Minister Shorten goes up to the Great Barrier Reef and goes snorkelling on a $17,000—
This is on relevance. I know Senator Cormann deals with the miners and the bankers, but $444 million is big money in any of these and it's been given away. He should answer the question.
On this side of the chamber, we care about the reef, which is why we're making a $443 million investment. Clearly the Leader of the Opposition does not care about the reef. The only thing he's interested in doing is going on a $17,000 freebie snorkelling tour and making promises to Mr Geoff Cousins which he then reneges on. I would say to the Australian people: you can't trust a word that Mr Shorten promises. Just go and ask Geoff Cousins. Mr Shorten took his freebies, went snorkelling and then dudded Mr Cousins.
Government senators interjecting—
The weekend away also says that, sadly, there is no buggy parking at the helipad. Under the partnership agreement struck by the government, the private foundation can undertake stakeholder engagement and fundraising activities. Isn't it true that the private foundation can now use taxpayers' money to completely spoil the miners and bankers on its chairman's panel?
I rise on a point of order, Mr President. Is the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, who has been here long enough to know better, simply able to sit in her chair and shout at you and argue with your rulings? Is that permissible?
Senator Macdonald, I would not describe it thus. I appreciate people drawing things to my attention. I did grant Senator Watt some extra time to ask his question. We are approaching 3 pm. I call Senator Cormann to answer that question from Senator Watt.
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has had bipartisan support in the past. Mr Burke provided a Commonwealth grant to it in the past, and the Labor Party voted in favour of this particular grant. As the government has said, we want to leverage additional private sector investment. As the Great Barrier Reef Foundation has publicly stated in relation to the chairman's panel, its objective is to bring together leading corporate executives and board members with an interest in the reef. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has 56 members on their chairman's panel from Australia's leading companies, universities and research organisations.
As I say, those opposite don't actually care about the reef at all. We care about the reef, which is why we are making a commitment to it and are trying to attract additional private sector investment. The Labor Party is all about the politics, as always. You vote in favour of it but then you to try to run away from it and somehow hide under the carpet. You can't hide under the carpet—you voted for it; you're on the hook for it.
Nine News revealed yesterday that $444 million of public funds were transferred from Treasury to the Department of the Environment and Energy on 27 June this year and then transferred from the department to the private foundation 24 hours later. Was the money transferred so fast at the end of June to help the private foundation pay the bills for this luxury weekend holiday a few weeks earlier for its mining and banking mates?
I can't believe that Senator Watt would be so silly as to ask me about a holiday up near the Great Barrier Reef with mates, because it was none other than Mr Shorten who went on a holiday to the reef with a mate—although he is no longer a mate, apparently.
The point of order is direct relevance. I understand that the finance minister of this country is having difficulty explaining the logic and probity of a $444 million grant, but that is what the question is about. It is not about Mr Shorten or dishing a bit more dirt; it is about nearly half a billion dollars' worth of taxpayers' money that they are accountable for. There is a legitimate public interest in the question being answered.
On the point of order: firstly, I addressed the legitimate point of public interest, but the question, as I heard it, related to holidays with mates up in a particular part of Australia, and I am responding to 'holidays with mates'.
Senator Wong interjecting—
Thank you very much, Mr President. We make no apologies for the fact that we seek to leverage additional private sector investment into the future health of the Great Barrier Reef. That does involve engaging with business—and, of course, Mr Shorten, does that quite happily. He went up there with Mr Cousins, except Mr Cousins is no longer a mate. He's now accusing Mr Shorten of dancing around the truth and he's attacking him for having turned on commitments that he had made to him in the past. So you have absolutely no credibility when it comes to the Great Barrier Reef. The Labor Party has absolutely no credibility. First, you provide a grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and then you vote for this one and now, just because the politics suit your strategy and your tactics on the day, you're just—you're pathetic. (Time expired)
Senator Wong interjecting—
I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.