Hardy Reef at the Whitsundays. Picture: Tourism Australia
Hardy Reef at the Whitsundays. Picture: Tourism Australia

$443m Reef handout slammed

SCIENTISTS have slammed a secretive $443 million grant for Great Barrier Reef research, handed to a private foundation run by oil and airline executives.

The federal Department of the Environment and Energy will be grilled at a Senate committee hearing in Brisbane today over the government grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

The Australian Academy of Science has warned that the taxpayer funding "does little'' to address reef risks such as global warming, land clearing, coastal development, dredging and fishing.

It has criticised the funding of "small-scale restoration projects such as underwater fans, coral sunscreen and coral gardens''.

"The Academy is also concerned about the redirection of funding from experienced and well-established Commonwealth agencies such as the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), CSIRO, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), in favour of a non-governmental organisation,'' it has told the Senate inquiry into the funding deal.

The Queensland Government has told the inquiry it is "concerned at the unprecedented approach of providing such a level of funding to a single private organisation without going to the open market to ensure a transparent and accountable procurement process.''

The foundation employs only 14 staff and is chaired by Dr John Schubert, a former boss of Esso Australia, Pioneer International, the Commonwealth Bank and the Business Council of Australia.

 

An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef.
An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef.

 

Other board members include Boeing Australia president Maureen Dougherty, Origin Energy director and former GE Mining president Steven Sargent, Suncorp chief executive Michael Cameron and Qantas executive Olivia Wirth. Its managing director is former Queensland Ballet boss Anna Marsden, who will give evidence at today's hearing.

The Senate environment committee will ask GBRMPA chairman Russell Reichelt to explain his self-declared "conflict of interest'' as a board member of the foundation.

Rival research groups, including GBRMPA, will have to compete for funding through the foundation.

"It is acknowledged that there is a potential for a conflict of interest as a result of the roles that I hold and as such I declare my interests to each board meeting of both the (GBRMPA) and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation,'' Dr Reichelt states in his submission to the inquiry.

"It is also agreed that moving forward I will not be participating in any Great Barrier Reef Foundation board discussions about the allocation of funding in my role as a board member, but rather I will participate in my role as Chairperson of (GBRMPA).''

Mr Reichelt declined to be interviewed.

A Great Barrier Reef Foundation spokeswoman said it had raised $90 million for reef research through private donations over the past 20 years and had a "strong track record of delivering high impact private-public partnership projects for the reef''.