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Thursday, 21 June 2018
Page: 3617

Great Barrier Reef

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:41): I ask the Minister for Jobs and Innovation: can the minister confirm that there was no consultation with Australia's premier public research organisations, the CSIRO and the Australian Institute for Marine Science, with regard to the handing over of $443 million for Great Barrier Reef research to a small private organisation?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Jobs and Innovation) (14:41): Thank you for the question, Senator Carr. This question is actually more appropriately given to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment.

Senator Kim Carr: No; point of order. This is a question directed to the minister responsible for those research agencies: Senator Cash. CSIRO.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, I was about to rule, but I'll take your contribution.

Senator Wong: Perhaps the minister might not be aware there is an organisation called the CSIRO!

Senator Cormann interjecting

Senator Wong: We are asking about consultation with the CSIRO. I wouldn't be calling anybody juvenile today, Senator Cormann.

The PRESIDENT: Let us stick to the points of order. I cannot instruct a minister how to answer a question. I can only require them to be directly relevant. Senator Cash, I will invite you to make any other contribution you wish. That can include taking it on notice or providing more information. Senator Carr?

Senator Kim Carr: Then I ask: if the minister can't even answer what's in her own portfolio—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, please. You'll have a supplementary opportunity. I've taken your point of order. I've invited the minister to make any further contribution. I cannot instruct her how to answer a question. Or she can take it on notice if she wishes.

Senator Wong: Yes, I understand that. I was actually not clear whether the minister was just looking at the brief and waiting and then going to rise or whether she was declining to answer the primary.

The PRESIDENT: I invited the minister to make a further contribution. Minister, do you have a further contribution to add?

Senator CASH: Yes. In relation to the primary question: I will take that on notice and respond to you, Senator Carr. But, in relation to the Great Barrier Reef, this is an economic asset for Australia, as we know, Senator Carr. It contributes $6.4 billion to the Australian economy. In relation to jobs, 64,000 Australians are actually reliant upon the Great Barrier Reef for their jobs. A key part of the investment that we are making is an innovative partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and it is $443.3 million. It is a grant that is delivered through the government's Reef Trust. The foundation will deliver funds, Senator Carr—

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cash. Senator Carr on a point of order?

Senator Kim Carr: The point of order is one of relevance. I wasn't asking the minister about the value of the Great Barrier Reef; I was asking about the consultation with regard to two portfolio agencies under her direct ministerial control.

The PRESIDENT: On your point of order: the minister has taken part of it on notice. The minister is addressing the part of your question which referred to a grant by the government. I consider the minister to be directly relevant to that part of your question.

Senator CASH: As I was saying, the foundation will deliver funds to range of partners experienced in delivering reef protection activities, as well as driving new capacity and partnerships for the reef. We have a productive relationship with the foundation. They have demonstrated their ability to deliver benefits for the reef and manage government funding appropriately through previous reef projects.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, a supplementary question.

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:45): Minister, this matter was canvassed at Senate estimates. Part of the rationale that was explained was that there was a private organisation that was able to leverage business connections to raise more funds for reef research. Can you now tell the Senate how much private funding this private federation has raised to date? What percentage of the $443 million does that represent?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Jobs and Innovation) (14:45): You would know that is now a matter that goes directly to the grant, which is actually administered by another portfolio. I understand that you don't like this foundation. You do not like the fact that the government is in partnership with the foundation, but at the end of the day a robust grant agreement setting out the terms of the partnership arrangement is being negotiated by the foundation. The grant agreement will be made consistent with the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines and the requirements of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. You may not like it, but that is a fact. In relation to the actual grant, it is administered by another portfolio.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, a final supplementary question.

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:46): Given that this matter was canvassed at Senate estimates where you were present, are you able to confirm that the government did not take into confidence the management of the CSIRO in awarding this grant? Does this not reflect a government change in policy towards the privatisation and outsourcing of public interest research?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Jobs and Innovation) (14:46): Absolutely not: I reject the premise of your question. As I have stated, this is a record investment. I would have thought that those on the other side of the chamber would be supportive of a record investment in relation to one of Australia's greatest economic assets—$6.4 billion and 64,000 jobs are reliant upon the Great Barrier Reef. Those on this side of the chamber are very proud of our record investment in the Great Barrier Reef. This foundation has already proven itself. They have demonstrated their ability to deliver benefits for the reef and manage government funding appropriately through previous reef projects. They have a track record in relation to the Great Barrier Reef.