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Aussie PM personally responsible for controversial barrier reef funding

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Staff Writer | October 1, 2018
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken responsibility for a controversial grant handed to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF).
Scott Morrison
Australia   Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Morrison's predecessor Malcolm Turnbull and the Minister for Energy and Environment at the time Josh Frydenberg in April handed the GBRF a 444.3-million-Australian dollar (321 million U.S. dollars) funding grant, the largest allocation of federal funding to the non-profit sector in history.

However, it has since emerged that the organization requested only 5 million Australian dollars (3.6 million U.S. dollars) and that the funding was not subjected to the usual tender process.

The Finance Department recommended that 200 million Australia dollar (144.5 million U.S. dollars) be set aside to protect the reef over six years.

Morrison, who was Australia's Treasurer when the grant was filled, a position now filed by Frydenberg, on Monday took responsibility for the decision, saying it made "financial sense".

"As treasurer, I was looking for the most effective way to make this significant and urgent commitment to the future of the reef, while at the same time protecting our return to a balanced budget at the earliest opportunity," he told News Corp Australia on Monday.

"Given this was a one-off investment into ongoing research, restoration and protection, and the financial situation was improving in 2017-18 as we were pulling the budget together, it made financial sense to consider doing this investment in one instalment, if it were also able to achieve the environmental objectives for the reef."

The funding is currently the subject of a Senate inquiry and the opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) has promised to change laws so as to recover that which is unspent if victorious at the next general election.

Chris Bowen, the ALP's Treasury spokesman, said that Morrison was "personally responsible for the most reckless piece of financial maladministration in living memory."

"It's clear Scott Morrison is responsible for trying to privatize the management of the Great Barrier Reef," he said in a statement.

"A Labor government will terminate the grant agreement between the Environment Department and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and demand the foundation return unspent funds. All recovered funds will be invested in the Great Barrier Reef via government agencies."