Great Barrier Reef

Budget Review 2022–23 Index

Pete David and Rebecca Bathgate

The largest of the Australian Government’s environment measures described in the 2022–23 Budget is a $1 billion investment over nine years to 2029–30 in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). This was announced by the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Environment, and Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef on 28 January 2022 and furthers the Government’s overarching management strategy for the GBR. This is set out in the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, released in 2015 and updated in 2021.

The new $1 billion funding package, much of which has already been provided for by the Government, is in addition to $2.1 billion in Government funding for the GBR committed for the 10 years from 2014–15 to 2023–24 as detailed in the updated Reef 2050 Plan 2021–25 (Appendix D, p. 64). The $1 billion package increases gradually over the first 3 years (Table 1), which appears to account for existing commitments for these years under the current funding arrangements. Its overall impact will be to extend the GBR funding stream to 2029–30.

Table 1      Breakdown of funding by financial year of the Government’s '$1 billion Great Barrier Reef package’ (202122 to 202930)

$ million 2021–22 2022–23 2023–24 2024–25 2025–26 2026–27 2027–28 2028–29 2029–30
5.2 46.6 74.7 147.0 147.9 147.4 145.4 141.2 144.5

Source: Provided in a written answer to Questions on Notice, Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Agriculture, Water and the Environment Portfolio, Additional Estimates 2021–22, 22 February 2022, Question No. 67.

A total of $421.5 million of the $1 billion is committed over the forward estimates period to 2025–26, with the remaining $578.4 million allocated to the 4 years from 2026–27 to 2025–26 (Question No. 67). The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) Budget 2022–23 Portfolio Budget Statements, Table 2.3 also shows a total of $30 million over the period 2021–2023 going to the Reef Trust Special Account for administered expenses relating to the Reef 2050 Plan.

The 2022–23 Budget coincided with the GBR experiencing its sixth mass bleaching event, confirmed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) on 25 March 2022. Coral bleaching occurs when above-average ocean temperatures cause coral to become stressed and expel the algal symbionts that produce their nutrition, resulting in the coral gradually starving to death. The process of bleaching can be reversed, but only if the ocean temperature anomaly does not persist for a lengthy period. A mass bleaching event is declared when severe temperature stress occurs at a large scale, typically leading to significant coral mortality. This is the first time that a mass bleaching has been recorded on the GBR during a La Niña weather event, which is typically characterised by cooler water temperatures driven by rain and cloud cover on the east coast of Australia.

The Budget and bleaching event also coincided with a 9-day monitoring visit by scientists from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The monitoring mission had been requested by the World Heritage Committee as part of its decision in 2021 as to whether the GBR should be listed as ‘in danger’.

Package details

As announced by the Government in January 2022, the $1 billion package is focussed on four key areas:

1. Water quality improvement

More than half of the $1 billion package is allocated to water quality initiatives ($579.9 million over 9 years), with $221.9 million of this committed over the forward estimates (Table 2).

Water quality commitments under the Reef 2050 Plan are delivered in accordance with the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan 2017–2022. Targets include a 60% reduction in dissolved inorganic nitrogen pollution and a 25% reduction in fine sediment pollution runoff (p. 10). The next 5-yearly update of the Water Quality Improvement Plan is due to be released in 2023.

The package provides:

  • $477.1 million for a new on-ground water quality investment program aimed at accelerating efforts to reduce runoff and meet Water Quality Improvement Plan targets. This includes $50 million for the Urban Water Quality initiative announced by the Minister for the Environment and Senator Susan McDonald on 15 March 2022.
  • $56.9 million investment in monitoring and reporting systems to allow for tracking and reporting of water quality parameters.
  • Details on the allocation of the remaining $45.9 million are not currently provided on the DAWE website.
2. Reef management and conservation

The package provides $253 million in funding to the GBRMPA over 9 years for reef management and conservation activities, with $117.6 million of this committed over the forward estimates (Table 2).

  • This includes $161.4 million to 2029–30, or between $66.1–67.1 million over the forward estimates period, for GBRMPA’s crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) control program (Table 2). COTS are marine invertebrates that feed on coral; however, in certain conditions their numbers can surge causing them to become pests and wreak havoc on coral communities. Established in 2012, the COTS control program is delivered in accordance with GBRMPA’s Crown-of-thorns Starfish Strategic Management Framework and provides surveillance and monitoring as well as tactical response (typically culls) to COTS outbreaks on the reef. Allocations to GBRMPA under this measure will effectively mean that the Authority will take the lead in managing funding for COTS control programs and initiatives previously funded through the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (p. 68 and pp.122–123). GBRMPA has said (pp. 123) that it will continue working in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre over the coming 18 months to make arrangements for programs under the new funding.
  • The remaining funds allocated to GBRMPA will be spent across GBRMPA’s work in compliance and enforcement of marine park regulations, expansion of the Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement program, and enhancing Traditional Owner involvement in Reef management.
  • Funding will also be directed to reactivation of the Tourism Industry Activation and Reef Protection Initiative (Budget 2021–22 PAES Agriculture, Water and the Environment Portfolio Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Table 1.2, p. 148). The initiative, which had been through the Australian Government’s COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund, directed $3.2 million in 2020–21 towards supporting 17 tourism operators who were contracted to carry out site stewardship activities, such as coral health surveys and COTS control.
3. Reef restoration and adaptation

Funding in the package for reef restoration and adaptation initiatives is directed via the Reef Trust Special Account administered by DAWE (Table 1.2, p. 22) and consists of:

  • $85 million over 8 years for interventions at the reef scale aimed at artificially engineering reefs that are more resilient to warmer ocean temperatures. This includes activities such as seeding reefs with larvae of corals that show adaptation to warmer water, and marine cloud brightening which aims to generate larger and more reflective clouds over the ocean to cool the water underneath.
  • An unspecified amount for research investment under the updated Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (p. 50), where reef restoration and adaptation have been added as investment priorities.

The Australian Government’s previous investment in reef restoration and adaptation of $100 million was announced in 2020 as part of its $443.4 million, 6-year investment in the Reef Trust Partnership (a partnership between the Reef Trust, managed by DAWE, and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation).

4. Strengthening partnerships and stewardship

The final tranche of funding is allocated for Traditional Owner and community-led projects under the theme of strengthening partnerships and stewardship. A total of $35.9 million has been committed over the forward estimates period (Table 2). Investment under this theme will be directed towards:

  • Reef protection projects ($37.1 million over 8 years)
  • Investment in fisheries catch monitoring and validation (including bycatch monitoring) ($26.7 million over 7 years starting in 2023–24).
  • Details on the allocation of the remaining $10.6 million are not currently provided on the DAWE website.

Table 2      Payments under the Government’s ‘$1 billion Great Barrier Reef package’ committed over the forward estimates period

$ million 2021–22 2022–23 2023–24 2024–25 2025–26 Total(a)
1. Accelerating actions to improve water quality ($579.9 million over 9 years commencing 2021–22)
Reef Trust Special Account – accelerating actions to meet water quality targets 3.2 14.0 34.8 83.1 86.7(b) 221.9
2. Support for world-leading reef management ($252.9 million over 9 years commencing 2021–22)
GBRMPA – Great Barrier Reef Package 0.9 27.6 30.9 29.9 28.3(b) 117.6(c)
Including: COTS management ($161.4 million commencing 2022–23)(d)
Protecting the reef through world class management – crown of thorns starfish control - 12.1 13.5 20.6 20.0–21.0(e) 66.1–67.1(b)
3. Reef restoration and adaptation ($92.7 million over 8 years commencing 2022–23)(f)
Reef Trust Special Account – Reef adaptation and restoration - 1.1 1.1 20.9 21.0(b) 44.1
4. Strengthening partnerships and stewardship ($74.4 million over 9 years commencing 2021–22)
Reef Trust Special Account – Community and Traditional owner on-ground Reef protection projects; Reef Trust Special Account – Reducing the impact of fishing 1.1 3.8 7.9 13.1 10.0(g) 35.9

Source: Except where otherwise stated, headline figures for each of the 4 funding segments are from Budget measures: Budget paper no. 2, pp. 56–57; and annual funding profiles are from Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements (PAES) 2021–22: Agriculture, Water and the Environment Portfolio (p. 22 and pp. 148–149).

  1. Except where otherwise stated, totals over the forward estimates period are from the answer to Questions on Notice, Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, 2021–22 Additional Estimates (Question No. 67).
  2. Figures are Parliamentary Library calculations based on the available annual funding profiles and/or the available totals over the forward estimates.
  3. Evidence given at the 2021–22 Senate Additional Estimates, Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, 14 February 2022, Hansard proof (p. 68).
  4. GBRMPA website.
  5. Evidence given at Senate Additional Estimates on 14 February 2022 (p. 68): ‘from 2024–25 on it works out at about $20 million to $21 million per year’. See note (c).
  6. Written answer to Questions on Notice. See note (a). The figure given in Budget measures: Budget paper no. 2 2022–23 (p. 57) of $95.6 million is over 9 years from 2021—22.
  7. This figure is from evidence given at Senate Additional Estimates on 14 February 2022 (p. 69). See note (c).

Other Reef-related measures

The Government is providing $63.6 million to support scientific research by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), as announced by the Prime Minister on 22 March 2022. This includes:

The Government is also providing $12.4 million to GBRMPA (as announced by the Minister for the Environment on 16 March 2022) to extend fee relief to local tourism businesses in the GBR Marine Park impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic (Budget paper no. 2, p. 56). The extension period will run to 30 June 2023.

Stakeholder reaction

Stakeholder reaction to the funding package has been mixed. At the time of the Prime Minister’s announcement in January 2022, farming peak bodies including Canegrowers and Agforce welcomed the injection of funding for water quality initiatives and the Environment Minister’s acknowledgement of the work already being done by farmers to improve their practices within the Reef catchment area.

The Local Government Association of Queensland also welcomed the Government’s commitment to address water quality issues, noting that the GBR supports 64,000 Queensland jobs.

Environment and climate-focused organisations, including the Australian Conservation Foundation, World Wildlife Fund Australia, Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Climate Council, have welcomed the Government’s investment in tackling water quality and reducing run-off, but noted the broader absence of additional commitments to address climate change—the other main threat to the GBR according to GBRMPA and UNESCO.


All online articles accessed April 2022

For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.

© Commonwealth of Australia

Creative commons logo

Creative Commons

With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, and to the extent that copyright subsists in a third party, this publication, its logo and front page design are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence.

In essence, you are free to copy and communicate this work in its current form for all non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute the work to the author and abide by the other licence terms. The work cannot be adapted or modified in any way. Content from this publication should be attributed in the following way: Author(s), Title of publication, Series Name and No, Publisher, Date.

To the extent that copyright subsists in third party quotes it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.

Inquiries regarding the licence and any use of the publication are welcome to

This work has been prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament using information available at the time of production. The views expressed do not reflect an official position of the Parliamentary Library, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion.

Any concerns or complaints should be directed to the Parliamentary Librarian. Parliamentary Library staff are available to discuss the contents of publications with Senators and Members and their staff. To access this service, clients may contact the author or the Library‘s Central Enquiry Point for referral.