Great Barrier Reef Foundation funding remains a major scandal

Written by: Nick G. on 14 May 2021


The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has just released an enquiry into the implementation of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation Partnership.

The partnership was established by a grant of $443.3 million awarded through a non-competitive process. As we reported at the time, the grant was “a complete surprise” to the Foundation and rocked scientific and environmental circles, not least because the Foundation was a front for finance capitalists and fossil fuel corporations who wanted to minimise climate change activism by pushing the “science” of reef resilience. It remains the largest ever federal government grant to an NGO.

The ANAO audit reveals that the $443.3 million had a total value to the Foundation over the six years of the partnership estimated to be $822 million. That was based on interest earned by the grant funds and by the Foundation’s ability to leverage the grant funds to obtain in-kind contributions from delivery partners the foundation contracts with, and cash fundraising. 
As at 31 December 2020, the foundation had spent or committed $154.8 million, which includes $19.7 million on administration and fundraising. Given that we are approaching the half-way mark of the six-year funding partnership, it would appear that there has not been a great deal of urgency in committing funding to the six project areas, despite’s the reef’s deterioration as a result of global warming.
The ANAO report does not encompass any of the political issues associated with the grant or the purposes behind the Foundation’s “science” and activities. It basically whitewashes the administration of the grant while pointing to some problems that required fixing:
The design and early delivery of the Government’s partnership with the foundation has only been partially effective.
The department and the foundation did not ensure that bank deeds were always in place to protect the Australian Government’s interests for each of the term deposits.
When awarding grant funding, there has been insufficient use of open and competitive approaches for procurements. For grants awarded through non-competitive processes and for the majority of procurements (both competitive and non-competitive), it has been common for selection criteria to not be specified. In addition, written contracts have not always been put in place by the foundation.
The grant agreement does not define what constitutes partnership administration costs… The foundation has not consistently implemented arrangements to cap the administration costs of its subcontractors.
The approach to selecting investment advisers was not open or sufficiently competitive.
As at December 2020, 70 delivery partners had identified that they would make in-kind contributions totalling $53.1 million towards projects that, combined with others, were to receive Australian Government funding of $134.3 million (a contribution rate of 39 cents for each dollar granted). In total, 30 per cent of the promised in-kind contributions were not included in the grant agreements and contracts signed by the foundation meaning funding recipients were not obligated to deliver their promised contribution. In addition, for the small number of projects that have been completed and acquitted, it has been common for partner contributions to be less than promised, with 23 per cent of the expected in-kind contributions not reported as having been provided by the partner, with inconsistent follow-up action being taken by the foundation in respect to the shortfalls in contributions.
As interim fundraising targets have not been set, it is difficult to assess whether appropriate progress is being made towards the fundraising targets.
These shortcomings are not insignificant, especially given, as we have pointed out, that this is the largest ever grant from the government to an NGO.
Imagine if a union fell so short of compliance requirements. No doubt it would receive hostile and ongoing front-page treatment in Murdoch’s un-Australian.
The unsolicited grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation remains the scandal that it always was.
The funds should be recovered and provided for real action on climate change.



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