Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Questions without Notice
Great Barrier Reef Foundation
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. On Monday, Minister Frydenberg said in relation to the government's grant of almost half a billion dollars in taxpayers' money to a small private foundation that his department had undertaken a 'first phase of due diligence' which looked at the foundation's 'fundraising history'. Can the minister advise the Senate exactly how much the private foundation has raised from corporate or private sources over its entire history?
I thank Senator Keneally for her question. In terms of the precise dollars, I am quite happy to take on notice anything that can be provided, in addition to information that Minister Frydenberg has a ready provided. I can happily say that the Great Barrier Reef Foundation has absolutely raised millions of dollars. I say that with some degree of confidence because I remember the fact that the former Labor government gave them $12 million. That's right—the Labor Party saw fit to give the foundation millions of dollars.
The question is not about what government funds may have been provided. The question is around the fundraising history from philanthropic and other sources that this body, which has been given half a billion dollars, may in reality have.
The Labor Party can't have it both ways. They can't try to drag down the name of a foundation that has done good work raising money to support the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and investing funds in projects to support the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. The Labor Party were happy to give millions of taxpayer dollars to that foundation, yet when the Turnbull coalition government gives millions of dollars to the same foundation, the Labor Party seek to drag the foundation's name through the mud. That's the Labor Party way, isn't it? It's all about cheap, base politics rather than the interests of the Great Barrier Reef.
Government senators interjecting—
I'm tempted to say 'very expensive, base politics on the other side', but what I'm actually coming to is direct relevance. The minister himself raised the fundraising history of—
Thank you. The point of order is direct relevance. The question is about fundraising history. We want the amounts that the corporation has raised from corporate or private sources over its entire history. This is precisely the justification for the grant.
I understand, Senator Wong. You have reminded the minister of the second part of the question. I understand he's taken part of the question on notice. As long as he's directly relevant to part of the question, I cannot instruct him how to answer the question.
Mr President, indeed I took that on notice. But, in a question that was asking about funds provided to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park foundation, at a time when the Labor Party are criticising the coalition government for giving funds to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park foundation, it is highly relevant to remind the Labor Party that they gave millions of dollars to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park foundation.
Now, we are proud to have made an investment into the future of the reef. We're proud to be making record investment through the Reef Trust into the future of the reef. We're proud to have been the government that got the reef taken off the 'in danger' list. We are proud to have made sure that the reef is in good hands. (Time expired)
I ask a supplementary question. In the last week, Minister Frydenberg has variously claimed that the private foundation has raised over $90 million, around $80 million, $65 million, more than $60 million and tens of millions of dollars. Which of Minister Frydenberg's figures is correct?
Senator Keneally is simply asking the first question in a different way. I took the information that was requested on notice in relation to the first question. I don't need to take it on notice again, because it is effectively the same question. But the truth is: the Turnbull government are the government that confronted the issue of the Great Barrier Reef when we came to government, and it was on the 'in danger' list according to the World Heritage Committee. We have worked to make sure that it was taken off that 'in danger' list.
We've taken the steps to ensure that dredge spoil never again is dumped in proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. We've taken those steps. We've taken the steps to establish the Reef Trust and to have record levels of investment and planning with the Queensland government—and, yes, in this year's budget, we took the step to give funds to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park foundation, a foundation with a long history of involvement, a long history of fundraising and a history of getting grants from the Labor Party, and that will add to our good work in the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. (Time expired)
Honourable senators interjecting—
The government are proud of every step we've taken in terms of our work for the Great Barrier Reef—our work to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef was taken off the endangered list, our work to deal with dredge spoil, our work to deliver a reef plan that is a long-term plan to improve water quality in the reef, our work to ensure that the reef has the funding that it deserves. But I'm not going to sit here or stand here and take lectures from Senator Keneally on due diligence. Perhaps we could talk about Sydney Metro as an example of due diligence.
The point of order is direct relevance. The government's given half a billion dollars away. We want to know about the due diligence in a circumstance where the minister has given five different figures. It is a reasonable question. Could the minister please answer it?
I took the initial question to answer and have simply had repeats of it. To help you out, $412 million was the cost of Sydney Metro—$412 million that could have, in the New South Wales equivalent, gone to something like the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
I don't know; what are we to assume from the Labor Party's questions—that they would rather $400 million or $500 million was not being spent on the Great Barrier Reef? Is that what we are to assume from the Labor Party's questions—that they would rather the future of the reef did not have this investment, this focus, this continuing to build— (Time expired)