Report on $444m grant to Great Barrier Reef Foundation tabled in Senate

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The Senate Environment & Communications References Committee inquiry report into the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program was tabled today by the Chair of the inquiry, Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson. 

Senator Whish-Wilson said, "This was the Senate at its best, acting swiftly and working cooperatively to scrutinise, in full, government policy of significant public importance.

"This grant was a desperate attempt to cover up this Government's legacy of reef mismanagement, years of chronic underfunding and disregard for climate change, in the context of an imminent World Heritage 'in danger' listing.

"It was clearly a political decision made with no consultation, due diligence or regard for proper process.

"It's a textbook case of how not to implement public policy, and a perfect example of why we shouldn't trust the future of a dying reef to a government intent on outsourcing public policy.

"This report and its recommendations are a good opportunity to press reset and build the best blueprint for future reef management, in full consultation with all stakeholders.

Some of the conclusions from the Committee were:

  • "The granting of $444 million to the Reef Foundation was a highly irresponsible decision, hastily concocted by relevant ministers, without proper consideration of risks and potential effectiveness, no consultation with key stakeholders, and without having undertaken due diligence."
  • "This 'off-the-cuff' decision has caused massive disruption to existing policy and program delivery, including by existing government agencies. It has all the hallmarks of a government that is not properly managing its responsibility as the guardian of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef."
  • "There were widespread concerns about "whether the Foundation was the right organisation to manage such a significant investment," including "the Foundation's ability to handle such a rapid increase in size and responsibilities, the high cost of administration, and the duplication and governance complexities the Partnership introduces."
  • "The most appropriate action for the Commonwealth to take is to terminate the Foundation Partnership. The committee believes this is necessary to help restore trust in the process of Commonwealth funding for the Reef, if not the entire Commonwealth grants process. The committee also considers that this is necessary to ensure that Commonwealth funding is spent in the best possible way to help protect and preserve the world's largest coral reef system."

The recommendations of the Committee were:

  • That all unspent Foundation Partnership funds be returned to the Commonwealth immediately; and that these funds be earmarked for expenditure on projects to protect and preserve the Reef, to be expended by 30 June 2024.
  • That a review, to be completed by 1 July 2019, be undertaken of the structure of Commonwealth funding to protect and preserve the Reef; the committee further recommends that the expenditure of unspent Foundation Partnership funds be guided by the outcome of this review.
  • That the Australian and Queensland Governments publish an updated Reef 2050 Plan Investment Framework that provides current figures on established funding by source and priority area.
  • Should a future Government decide to maintain the Foundation Agreement, the committee recommends that all necessary steps be undertaken to ensure that the Foundation's investment of public funds precludes investment in sectors or funds that directly or indirectly contribute to climate change, particularly companies that generate energy from or undertake mining of fossil fuels.
  • Should a future Government decide to maintain the Foundation Agreement, the committee recommends that the Senate order: That — (a) There be laid on the table by the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy, by no later than 31 October each year; (i) an annual performance statement for the previous financial year that provides information about the Great Barrier Reef Foundation's performance in achieving the purposes of the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program; and; (ii) independent and audited financial statements for the previous financial year for all receipts and payments relating to the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program funds, including any co financed contributions; (b) If the Senate is not sitting when a statement is ready for presentation, the statement is to be presented to the President under standing order 166; (c) This order has effect until the end of the last financial year in which the Agreement is operative, following the cessation of the Partnership.
  • Should a future government decide to maintain the Foundation Agreement, that the Auditor-General undertake a second audit of the Partnership in late 2019–20 once the final design aspects of the Partnership have been finalised.
  • That the Australian Government take steps to address and effectively tackle climate change as an underlying cause of economic, social and environmental damage to the Reef and the Australian environment more broadly.

Report available here.

 
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