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The True Facts Behind That $444 Million Grant To The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Ok, let me state at the outset that I realised my tautology straight away but headings are hard to change. A tautology is when you repeat the same thing in an unnecessary way, like “past history”, “morning sunrise” or “mistaken National MP”. It is not the same thing as an oxymoron which is when you combine contradictory things like “open secret”, “deafening silence” or “calm Christopher Pyne”.

So, yes, I know that “true facts” is a tautology. If a thing is false it’s not a fact. It’s what is called “wrong” or “a lie” or “Liberal Party’s Real Solutions booklet”. “Alternative facts”, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as ridiculous as it was portrayed. After all, you can give me a fact like I’ve had too many glasses of wine and I can give you an alternative fact such as the moon is not really made of green cheese. Both things may be true. This is something that various politicians have used for ages. “We need to do something about climate change” is often countered with an alternative fact like “The economy is important” or “I want to be praised by Andrew Bolt so I don’t care about the truth.”

We saw a great example of facts and alternative facts when Leigh Sales asked Josh Frydenberg about the lack of process in awarding of the $440 million to Great Barrier Reef foundation. He replied with the alternative fact that it was the largest amount ever given for action on the reef. Yes, Josh, this may well be true. I think that’s why there’s so much concern about the process. I mean, if they’d been from some charity – apart from that IPA one – and the government had merely handed over taxpayer funds worth $1000, I don’t think anybody would have wasted breath on the whole thing. Part of the problem is the size of the donation to an organisation which had less people working for it than the AIMN has writers.

But leaving all the semantics to one side, I have tracked down the story behind the donation. And by that I mean I tracked it down just like the media did when they managed to track down all those anonymous Labor sources that told us that there’d be a challenge to Bill Shorten: I have had somebody tell me, off the record, exactly what happened. So by “true facts” I mean that this is what someone assures me happened, so I don’t need to ask the PM’s office for comment.

PRIME MINISTERS OFFICE – Malcolm and Josh are chatting. There is a knock at the door and two people enter. They shake hands and greet the PM and Minister For Energy And Environment

MALCOLM: And where are you from?

STRANGER 1: Oh, we’re from Queensland

MALCOLM: The Queensland government?

STRANGER 2; No, no. we’re nothing to do with the government…

MALCOLM: Excellent. So, what are you doing all the way down in Canberra?

STRANGER 1: Well, as we said we’re from Queensland

MALCOLM: Ah, Longman.

STRANGER 1: Sorry?

MALCOLM: Longman’s in Queensland, isn’t it?

STRANGER 2; Yes, it is.

JOSH: Definitely. you were there just the other day, Malcolm. Remember?

MALCOLM: How could I forget? Lovely place Longman. Great local member. Ok, $300 million.

STRANGER 2; Sorry?

MALCOLM: All right, $400 million. You drive a hard bargain.

STRANGER 2: You don’t seem to understand…

MALCOLM: Ok, $440 million but that’s as high as I go.

STRANGER 2: I think you’re confusing us with somebody…

STRANGER 1: Sh. Let the PM speak.

JOSH: So what were you actually needing the money for?

STRANGER 2: Fixing up the Great Barrier Reef.

MALCOLM: Oh, is that in Longman.

STRANGER 1: Well, not actually. I mean, the Great Barrier Reef is in the sea, but it’s all Queensland, eh?

MALCOLM: Of course. Josh, draw up the press statement and get these people the money as quickly as you can.

JOSH; Yes, Prime Minister.

Mm, why did the phrase “Yes, Prime Minister” give me a feeling of deja?


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  1. Kronomex

    “Corruption? Us? We don’t even know what the word corruption means. Do we Josh?”
    “Nope, never heard the word before. What do you reckon Barnaby?”
    “Wanna buy a copy of my book? I’ll even sign it with joined up writing and all.”
    “So, we all agree that it’s a made up word by Kill Bill and the other lefties to besmirch our reputations?”
    “Yep. Can I go back to my coal shed now?”
    “Off you go Josh.”
    “Please buy a copy of my book, I’ll get the baby to throw up on the cover as an extra bonus.”

    Have a look who sponsored @karlstefanovic ‘s trip to the Great Barrier Reef so he could interview their Chairman’s Panel member Deloitte live on air. Yep. You guessed it. The @GBRFoundation

    “Taxpayers’ money has been given away without process, probity or policy justification”

    Nearly $450 million was gifted by the federal government to a tiny environmental charity focusing on the Great Barrier Reef — but nobody can really explain why.

    It’s turning into quite a political saga, with revelations the group is linked to climate change-denying donors to the Liberal Party, and the money didn’t go through the normal tender process.

    Labor said the “cash splash” was lavished “without process, probity or foundation”, and the opposition is already calling it ‘Reefgate’.

    What is the Great Barrier Reef Foundation?

    The group, which had just six full-time employees at the time of the massive funding injection in the May federal budget, is a small and obscure charity that almost nobody had heard of until a few months ago.

    Its board of directors include current or former employees of AGL Gas, Origin Energy, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Boeing and Qantas, while the Chairman’s Panel has links to Orica, Peabody Energy, and Shell.

    The foundation says it “started with a small group of businessmen chatting at the airport while waiting for their flight” in 1999.

    However, that story seems to be a bit of a creative flourish.

    The foundation said its mission is to find “real solutions to the threats facing Australia’s great natural wonder and coral reefs globally”, and to “ensure a Great Barrier Reef for future generations”.

    But while the group has business heft, the process by which a tiny group which reportedly had just $8 million in turnover in 2017 scored $444 million in the budget is still murky.

    What is the $444 million for?

    The group was tapped to administer funding for reef projects including action on the crown of thorns starfish outbreak, pollution and work to mitigate effects of climate change. The foundation has been given the massive funding to dole out grants to other organisations like the CSIRO, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science — not the usual way of doings things, with the department usually responsible for such funding allocations.

    “We didn’t have much time before the announcement to be prepared for it,” chief executive Anna Marsden told Fairfax in May.

    “It’s like we’ve just won lotto – we’re getting calls from a lot of friends.”

    She told Fairfax the unexpected funding, which the formerly small and obscure foundation did not apply for through the normal tender process, “may make us the largest environmental NGO in Australia”.

    So why did they get the money?

    It’s not exactly clear. Even Marsden said the foundation was flabbergasted.

    “I’d like to state for the record that the foundation did not suggest or make any application for this funding. We were first informed of this opportunity to form a partnership with reef trust on the 9th of April this year,” she told a Senate inquiry hearing this week.

    When asked who contacted the foundation to offer the money, she said it came in a small, private meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and environment minister Josh Frydenberg.

    “It’s still not clear to us how it came to be that the prime minister felt that he could meet with this foundation and offer them $443m of money,” Labor senator Kristina Keneally said during the hearing.

    It has also emerged that the money has already been distributed into the foundation’s bank accounts, collecting interest in term deposits, Labor MP Tony Burke said.

    Minister Frydenberg defended the funding decision on the ABC’s 7.30 on Thursday, saying “my department, including my secretary, have had more than 20 meetings since early April with the foundation”.

    However, Burke countered by saying “none of these meetings took place before the Prime Minister personally met with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation” to offer the money in April.

    Turnbull also defended the spending on Friday, saying the foundation “is an outstanding organisation” and the funding process “has been done completely transparently.”

    Now what?

    Labor have said they will pursue the funding further.

    “There was no tender process for the donation and the foundation never applied for the money. The Prime Minister was present at the meeting with the foundation and he personally told the chair, Dr John Schubert about the donation. It appears no public servants were present,” Burke said this week.

    “All the probity checks and balances which ordinarily apply to expenditure by government agencies will not apply to spending decisions made by the foundation.”

    “Effectively half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money has been given away without process, probity or policy justification. The future of the reef should not be determined behind closed doors by Mr Turnbull’s mates.”

    .”so a CSIRO reef scientist will have to go to a private foundation to receive taxpayer funds for research”…..

    Also he said that the commercial in confidence period is indefinite- they can wine and dine and rack up expenses on taxpayers money, and it will be kept secret FOREVER.


    Why is giving the GBRF responsibility for allocating $444 million better than the existing grants process?

    Because then they’d have to be accountable and couldn’t just hand over millions to their corporate mates! 😀

    Anna Marsden confirmed that GBRF is a small outfit which just been granted 5 times the cash they have raised in 18 years, in one whack. $90m raised in 18 years, $444m granted in one day, April 9 2018, and within 2 months the lot in the bank.

    Lots of talk of coinvestment- which is the nub. Turnbull has decided, on what advice we don’t know, that the way to fund the ‘projects’ is to have captains of industry put in cash ‘to match the Commonwealth’ ie the taxpayer. And because GBRF is a charity, the cash donated is deductible, and looks good on their web sites under ‘environment’.

    So the 6 employees (something Leigh4Sale neglected to ask about), will have to get cracking. Apparently 80% of the $90m the GBRF has raised over 18 years has ‘gone to projects’, and 90% of the $444m will ‘go to projects’. So only $44m over the 6 years to run the GBRF admin – not counting how much of the ‘project’ work will be admin.

    And a fun fact. Anna Marsden said the biggest problem for the reef was Climate Change, and rattled on for a while about ‘must meet Paris commitments’ though when pressed, did not know what these were. The fun fact is that in the 98 page Grant Agreement for $444m, the words ‘Climate Change’ do not appear at all.

    Anna Marsden from @GBRFoundation told @leighsales last night that the GBRF has raised over $90m in the past 18 years.

    She said the “audited figures” are “on their website”. #reefgate

    Let’s check this claim out.

    Here’s the financial information currently available on the GBRF website: annual reports back to 2011. The Foundation was established in 1999.

    Just today @GBRFoundation website was updated to state that the Foundation have raised “over $90m” since 2000. No audited reports going back to 2000 are here. Yet.

    But let’s look closer.

    In the new information posted just today, GBRF state that “64%” of the $90m is from “private and corporate philanthropy”

    By their accounting, that would place their actual “fundraising” at around $57m

    Further, @JoshFrydenberg told the ABC this week that GBRF “raised $80m themselves.”

    The next day, he’d already walked that statement that back to “tens of millions of dollars” in comments to @australian

    Now @TurnbullMalcolm & @JoshFrydenberg
    have claimed that the GBRF is ‘the best’ because it can leverage private donations – but how do they know?

    Even the Dept of Environment admits they haven’t seen all of the GBRF’s financial statements.

    Marsden said on RN Breakfast today that the GBRF “have to do more to earn that trust…and we will step up accordingly, and we will remain accountable along this journey.”

    Here’s some ways to start:

    Please provide answers to the questions @AnthonyChisholm & I asked last week at the Senate inquiry about the Foundation’s fundraising claims. Please back it up with audited statements.

    And please arrange for @GBRFoundation Board Members, including Dr. John Schubert, Grant King, Stephen Sargent and Stephen Fitzgerald, to appear before the Senate inquiry as soon as possible.

    We’ve asked for the Chair and Mr King several times now.

    ABC take on the issue


  2. Peter F

    So the Foundation has less people.What are they less than.. an LNP stooge? They could hardly have fewer people, could they?

  3. Henry Rodrigues

    Can anyone expect any honesty from a PM who does not resile from the fact that the Cayman Islands exists for one purpose only, as a tax haven where no accountability can be enforced by any other country’s tax department ? Handing over millions of dollars taxpayers money to his ‘mates’ under flimsy pretexts of protecting the Great Barrier Reef is tatamount to criminal behaviour.
    Once a banker always a wanker.

  4. Kaye Lee

    On the Board of Directors for GBRF is one Stephen Fitzgerald who previously was Chairman of Goldman Sachs, Australia and New Zealand.

    This same Stephen Fitzgerald is also a Member of the Council of Advisors, United States Studies Centre.


    Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s wife, Lucy Turnbull, is the United States Studies Centre’s “patron”.

    Their son-in-law, James Brown, was the think tank’s research director from 2015 until a few months ago, when he resigned to devote time to the unpaid role as president of the NSW division of the Returned and Services League of Australia, which is going through a financial scandal.

    The United States Studies Centre, which was set up by the Murdoch family, has also just been given $12 million by the federal government.

  5. Andrew J. Smith

    There is method in the madness or a weird resonance amongst fossil fuel players who view road related funding, even when not needed (inumerable level crossing replacements in Melbourne), as a victory because same funds will not be used for public transport, cyclists and pedestrians.

    Energy is similar, whether NEG or other sub-optimal schemes, it’s about attracting funding to support legacy generators and fossil fuels while endeavouring to preclude competition from non fossil fuel and renewable sector.

    Again, existing and/or former fossil fuel leaders (of local subsidiaries from UK/US) on the GBRF are gifted a windfall or significant funds that can be both deemed as a success for the Barrier Reef or the environment, and precluding more worthwhile and/or longstanding environmental channels from funding.

  6. jagman48

    Interesting interview by Ben Fordham and Josh yesterday. Got a bit confused did Josh

  7. Rhonda

    The waters of the GBRF are looking muddier by the minute

  8. New England Cocky

    How much of the $440 MILLION free, gratis and for nothing grant to GBRF is pledged to go into the Liarbral Party 2019 Federal Election Fund??????

  9. wam

    The skill of the GBRF is in their contacts who will get a personal invite to apply for slices of the cake.
    The initial process, at one of the exclusive reef resorts, will be a palate testing grange banquet to determine the size of the grab oops grant.
    After administration costs, there will be some $200m to allocate to companies and individuals who will take their administrative costs with some $100m reaching the tourist parts of the reef. identified by pauline as having been affected by the fake news of coral dying.

  10. Luke Daglish

    I also believe that some of the Tax Payers money was going to the Liberal Party as donations. (BUT NOT NOW).

  11. David Hughes gittins

    So what was Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s response to Adani’s Abbot Point and associated wetlands reef spill in 2017?

  12. Terence Mills


    That interview on 2GB with Ben Fordham didn’t go according to the 2GB template : Fordham actually asked hard questions and when Josh went for the it’s the Labor party’s fault Fordham wouldn’t have a bar of it.

    You can hear it here : https://www.2gb.com/ben-fordham-takes-environment-minister-to-task-over-mysterious-444-million-reef-grant/

    The challenge for the coalition is that if you can’t go to 2GB for a soft interview that just leaves Sky and Andrew Bolt.

  13. John L

    Well, 10% to administer the funds…$44,000,000 to process the money is a good income for basically being a middle man, and it’s all gratis. Of course, a ” donation” to show gratitude will be in order………
    Corruption, they name is Malcolm Turnbull!

  14. Kyran

    Ok, it’s official. I am so fecking confused.
    The ABC has an article about Adani polluting the GBR. Not the possibility of it, or the potential for it, but the actual occurrence of it. And the complicity of the Queensland government in its concealment.
    “Documents uncovered using freedom of information laws show that morning, Adani realised the large amount of rain falling into its storage pools would likely cause them to overflow onto important wetlands next door to the site.
    That section suggests that later on March 27, while Adani was applying for a last-minute extension to its temporary pollution licence, it appeared to know the water it was likely to dump would be so polluted it would breach the licence.
    The Queensland Government said Adani admitted to breaching its licence, spilling polluted water into the Marine Park that was 800 per cent dirtier than was allowed.
    And it turns out it was likely to be up to 900 per cent more polluted than would be allowed under the terms of the licence the company was seeking.
    Despite applying for a licence to spill water into the ocean with up to 100 mg of coal per litre, in emails to the department, Adani revealed the water that would spill was likely to be up to 900 mg per litre.”

    What defence did they use to conceal their concealment? They didn’t challenge the veracity or substance of the allegations, nor did they challenge the actual occurrence. Their defence was that the disclosure of FACTS would be prejudicial.

    “Adani ‘categorically deny any wrongdoing’
    In fighting the release of the details, Adani claimed it would exacerbate “ongoing public vitriol”.
    In submissions to the Queensland information commissioner, the company claimed it would pressure the department to be seen to be “cracking down” on Adani, and alleged the Government was “conferring” with environmental groups.
    Adani claimed the information would cause “extreme and unfair prejudice to” Adani, in the dispute over its fine.
    But the acting commissioner found Adani’s claims to be “wholly speculative in nature” and said there were not “real and substantial grounds” for those claims.
    Adani did not directly answer a series of questions put to them by the ABC, but did supply a statement.
    “We categorically deny any wrongdoing in this matter, we complied with the limits imposed by the Temporary Emissions Licence issued by the regulator and no breach occurred,” the statement read.
    “We have elected to have the matter heard by a magistrate rather than pay a $12,000 fine, which should not have been issued in 2017 following Cyclone Debbie, and we look forward to resolution of the matter.”


    So the disclosure of facts would damage Adani’s poor commercial and environmental credentials and the Queensland government, by default, would be seen as pandering to a rapacious entity, devoid of any benefit to anyone other than its directors. That’s before you start on tailing dams at Queensland Nickel or the extraordinary amount of land clearing in both Queensland and northern NSW, let alone the other coalminers in the Galilee Basin, who are quietly going about their business, content with the Adani distraction.
    Just to recap, Adani had a ‘pollution licence’, which they ‘extended’ to accommodate the impact of a storm. They then sought an extension of the extension as they knew their mitigation strategies were completely inadequate. They then breached the extended limit (100 mg of coal per litre) by 8 or 9 times.
    The penalty for an 800-900 % increase in the already increased amount of ‘permissible pollution’ was $12k. Which Adani will fight. Not because of the amount. Because of the potential damage to their reputation.
    The recipients of Turnbull’s $440bill have already stated that campaigning and lobbying against the damage being done by the coal industry or any other industry is not in their purview. They exist to solicit funds and disburse them on actual projects, like underwater fans and umbrellas to protect the GBR.
    They will not trouble themselves with identifying entities that pose danger to the reef, nor will they attempt to point out such dangers to the government. We are not discussing possible damage, alleged damage, or any rumoured damage. The actual damage.
    Once again Mr Brisbane, your evil genius at satire has been thwarted by the evil reality of this government and their media minders. True facts? Clearly there is no fluoride in rainwater, cause all we’re seeing is Truth Decay. Hold up. Maybe we should seek a grant from the GBRF to fluoridate the GBR. That’s gotta be worth millions. Or rejig that Russian scam/scheme and just make more rain. There do not appear to be any KPI’s for the money being ‘granted’, after all.
    The great sadness is not that these fools are peddling so much crap, but they think anyone else believes it. It’s time to put these Nuph-nuph’s in a care facility, preferably soundproofed.
    Thank you Mr Brisbane and commenters. Take care

  15. Kronomex

    Couldn’t figure out where to place this, so…

    Read the following piece and immediately thought (whether it’s any good or not is another question) of the following as a political cartoon –


    Logo of a rocket with Trumps head on top flying towards a planet which bears a remarkable resemblance to a bare arse with a “crater” that also resembles a certain orifice.

  16. myprivatereef

    Kyran, remember LNP Unwritten Rule #1 ‘Be unaccountable to the public’.
    Adani is only living up to govt expectations of Unwritten Rule #1 – Be Unaccountable.

    Unwritten Rule #1 and the great GBRF debacle:
    What we have is a PM with the intention to privatize the GBR right in front of our faces.
    How much of that $443M will end up invested in green bonds issued by Goldman Sachs?
    What tax incentives will the govt create to get green bond issuers in an agreeable frame of mind?
    This scam has only just begun. If the PM doesn’t lose his job because of #Reefgate I’ll take my hat off to the level of corruption, media negligence and blatant cronyism in this country.

    On a lighter note, a couple of videos on ABC this week – Tonightly and The Weekly:
    The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

  17. johno

    Just finished my new website for…
    Starting from A $999,000 each including shipage.

  18. my say

    This whole sorry saga gets messier and messier every day ,what have they done that they are trying to hide ,What have they done? where is the money really going and what for ,someone needs to keep digging

  19. diannaart

    The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority received $142.5 million in 2015 for works phased over 6 years.

    In 2015 the government came up with the 2050 Plan for caring for the GBR, in 2016 $260 million was promised towards the goals of the 2050 plan.

    2050 Plan:

    The Framework shows that across governments, industry and the community, more than $1.2 billion has already been committed for the next five years focused solely on delivering actions in the Reef 2050 Plan.

    I am not sure if the $444 million is a part of the above 2050 budget – I do not think so given that the GBR foundation is not included in the list of affiliated partners.

    List of Partners:


    Maybe the GBR Foundation is part of the Local Marine Advisory Committees or Reef 2050 Advisory Committee or even the Reef 2050 Independent Expert Panel

    I suspect not.

    Anyway, as I stated on John Lord’s article “Yes, Prime Minister. Fishy, well not at all, you see …” all of what the GBR foundation is supposed to do is already being done by the GBR Marine Authority (which is part of the federal government), plus a whole lot more:

    The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is responsible for ensuring the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park—one of the world’s greatest natural treasures—is protected for the future.

    As a World Heritage Area, the Reef is recognised internationally for its outstanding universal value.

    For 40 years we’ve managed this biologically diverse icon and multiple-use area, using the best available scientific information and input from marine managers, researchers, experts and Traditional Owners.

    Our management is guided by a range of plans, policies, regulations and legislation, with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 setting out our functions and responsibilities.

    We directly manage activities in the Marine Park, implement plans and policies for Reef use and protection, and work with communities and industries that depend on a healthy Reef for recreation and their livelihoods. Tourism, fishing, boating and shipping are all legitimate uses of the Marine Park.


    Perhaps the problem is the word “government” as Rossleigh so cannily wrote above:

    *MALCOLM: And where are you from?

    STRANGER 1: Oh, we’re from Queensland

    MALCOLM: The Queensland government?

    STRANGER 2; No, no. we’re nothing to do with the government…

    MALCOLM: Excellent. So, what are you doing all the way down in Canberra?*

    These libertarian, conservative LNP drones really don’t like governments – which begs the question how they do even manage being politicians, without their brains exploding??? …. I think I know what the problem is.

  20. Diane Rawley

    @myprivatereef did you notice that shortly afterward, the announcement was made that the ABC was axing Tonightly? Wonder if Malcolm – or Michelle Guthrie’s former boss, Murdoch – had a quiet word?

  21. Iain Adam

    Coruption Turnbull is on thin ice, he should resign forthwith.

  22. diannaart

    @ Diane Rawley

    Very disappointed to see Tonightly’s contract not renewed. It was developing into a very good (if a little edgy for some) satire show.

    As Tom said last night, “we have another 3 weeks, we can do whatever we like, what are they going to do, fire us?”

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