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Wednesday, 30 May 2018
Page: 5084

Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (18:29): I have several questions for the minister. I'm sure that he would agree that Australia's precious environment is vulnerable and must be protected in a way that is considered and sustainable. Obviously, the Great Barrier Reef is arguably Australia's most precious natural asset. It's of great economic benefit to Queensland. Many people come from all around the world to see it. Recently, we heard Sir David Attenborough, one of the most respected naturalists in the world, say that Far North Queensland is his favourite part of the world. I'm not just saying that because I'm married to someone from Cairns!

I was very surprised to see and hear in the budget that the government has provided funding to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Initially, I was obviously very supportive. I will always support anything that can be done to support Australian tourism—Queensland tourism in particular. The Labor Party under the member for Grayndler has done great things for tourism in the past. We will always support investment in tourism. I know that the member for Shortland is a great supporter of all things Queensland. I know that he's passionate about Queensland.

Mr Conroy interjecting

Mr PERRETT: I know he's a big supporter of Queensland and will be very proud of any investment in Queensland, particularly those supporting the Great Barrier Reef.

When it was announced that funding of $444 million will all go to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, I was very surprised, like many people in Australia. It's a foundation that Labor funded.

A government member interjecting

Mr PERRETT: I recognise that Labor funded this foundation when it was in government. Labor committed $3 million a year to the foundation, and we actually maintain a good working relationship with them. But funding of $444 million to one foundation that employs how many people? Six full-time members and five part-time members. That's a completely different ball game. It shows a complete error of judgement on the part of this government. What did Neville Wran say about the member for Wentworth? 'Fearless, but his greatest flaw was his lack of judgement.' And we see this again. This is the largest donation that any Australian government has made to a single foundation for environmental projects.

The foundation itself described the funding—after they consulted with those many scientists that they have—like winning the Lotto, the scale of funding ordinarily overseen by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. No, we have this Minister trying out for the Lodge early. He's outsourced this massive funding grant to one organisation. The Great Barrier Reef—

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Mr PERRETT: Yes, it is funding, Minister. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, located in Townsville, in the member for Herbert's electorate, only found out about it a week before it was announced. When questions were asked in Senate estimates last week, it became clear that the process, if there was one, was at best chaotic. Senate estimates left us with more questions than answers. We can't get an answer about when the decision to provide the funding was made and who made it, or whether any advice was received by the minister before the funding the announcement was made.

Minister, was there any due diligence given before it was decided to entrust $444 million of taxpayer money to the foundation? Did the Minister consider the Reef Trust for this large funding grant? The Reef Trust is described on his own department's website as:

… one of the key mechanisms assisting in the delivery of the Reef 2050 Plan, focusing on known critical areas for investment—improving water quality and coastal habitat along the Great Barrier Reef …

The Reef Trust is considered a collaboration between the federal government, the Queensland government and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Great runs on the board. Was the Reef Trust considered as an option before it was decided to give $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation? Was advice sought about whether the Reef Trust was a suitable candidate for the funding? Did you even use something called Google to see whether there were other entities available? With such a large funding grant, why was there not a competitive process undertaken to ensure that this funding was used to best benefit the Great Barrier Reef? Why was this very large funding grant of $444 million not kept in-house and spread over different areas? Why was it necessary to give $444 million to one organisation over a one- or two-month period? Why was it to be allocated in this financial year? (Time expired)