- The Turnbull government announced $444 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef in the May budget
- It went to a little-known private foundation with just six staff and a range of corporate backers that reads like a who’s who of big business in Australia.
- The government has been under fire subsequently because the funding was not put out to competitive tender and the process around allocating the money has not been properly explained.
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the charity that received a $444 million grant from the federal government without tender, has spent 42.5 cents in every $1 of funds raised over the past decade.
The Australian reports that cumulatively, less than 60c in the dollar went towards “science investments” involving the reef, according to annual reports between 2007 and 2017.
Administration costs swallowed up 62% of the 2007 budget, fell to 44% in 2013, and last year sat at 23%.
A GBR foundation told The Australian the organisation now has a 20% cap on administration costs.
Even that figure is nearly double the charity industry benchmark of around 11%.
The Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership deal with the government caps the charity’s administration costs at 10%, meaning up to $44 million could be spend administering the funding.
The foundation has six staff. CEO Anna Marsden described the federal funding, which her organisation did not seek and appears to have not known it would receive, as “like winning Lotto”.
But former GBR Foundation board member Michael Myer has called the decision “quite shocking and almost mind-blowing”.
“I think the Government’s judgment is really poor,” he said.
The government and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg have been defending the decision to award taxpayer funds to the privately-run foundation, but the minister has refused to answer questions about the process leading up to awarding the money.
Even the amount raised by the Foundation over 18 years has been in dispute in recent weeks. An update by the Foundation this week revealed that of the $90 million total, 64% ($58 million), came from private donors, and the rest from government grants, which means an annual average of $5 million.
Frydenberg has cited the Foundation being “pre-eminent in raising funds from the private sector” as one reason it received the $444 million.
While it’s believed that Malcolm Turnbull intervened personally in the decision, the issue has become another major policy headache for the government.
In a brutal 15-minute interview with 2GB’s Ben Fordham yesterday, Frydenberg repeatedly refused to answer a question about whose idea it was and why it did not go to tender, including this exchange:
Fordham: “Have you ever, Josh Frydenberg, handed over nearly half a billion dollars without going to a competitive tender?”
Minister: “Ben, the money has gone to the foundation in accordance with the Commonwealth grant guidelines.”
Fordham: “I’m guessing it’s a no Josh.”
Minister: “I don’t think you want to hear the answer.”
Fordham: “Well I do want to hear the answer, it’s a yes or a no.”
Minister: “Well the answer is…
Fordham: “The answer is no.”
Minister: “The answer is I don’t have a big bucket of money to continue to hand out to every need.”
Fordham: “Well you do for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.”
Frydenberg would later accuse Fordham of “reading from the Labor party script”.
Fordham said the government’s actions fail the pub test.
“The people of Australia think this thing stinks,” he said.
The money will be given in a lump some to be spent over six years.
Frydenberg indicated some of the money will go to farmers to improve land management practices to reduce run off.
Meanwhile, The Australian has revealed that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is looking to share staff with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. The Authority’s chairman, Russell Reichelt, is also on the foundation board.
The Australian has more here.
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