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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10303

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (16:16): I present the report of the Environment and Communications References Committee on the Great Barrier Reef 2050 partnership program together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee and move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This inquiry was the Australian Senate at its best, acting swiftly and working cooperatively to scrutinise in full government policy of significant public importance. This grant, this $444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, 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 for the greatest living organism on this planet, the Great Barrier Reef. This grant was clearly a political decision made with no consultation, no due diligence and no 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 now to press reset and build the best blueprint possible for future reef management in full consultation with all stakeholders.

There are a number of key recommendations in this committee report. The most startling recommendations and conclusions were that the granting of this $444 million grant to the reef foundation was a highly irresponsible decision hastily concocted by relevant ministers without proper consideration of risks and potential effectiveness. It was an off-the-cuff decision and it fell flat. The first recommendation was:

… 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 …

The second recommendation was that the Commonwealth government:

… undertake a review, to be completed by 1 July 2019, of the structure of Commonwealth funding to protect and preserve the Great Barrier Reef. The committee further recommends that the expenditure of unspent Foundation Partnership funds be guided by the outcome of this review.

The third recommendation was:

… that the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments publish an updated Reef 2050 Plan Investment Framework that provides current figures on established funding by source and priority area.

There are five or six other recommendations there that, should that money not be returned to the government, would follow for any future government.

I'd like to thank the Senate staff. It has been a huge privilege to chair this committee. I'd like to thank, especially, Senator Keneally for her passion and her work on this issue, and all other senators who made quorum through a number of hearings. There's absolutely no room for error with the Great Barrier Reef, given it's nearly half dead through back-to-back bleachings. Its future is significantly under threat. This is something we have to get right. I trust that what will come out of this farcical process is a renewed effort to get the right blueprint in place to get the best possible funding to give the reef the best possible chance. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.