On 19 June 2018, the Senate referred the following matter to the
Environment and Communications References Committee (the committee) for inquiry
and report by 13 July 2018:
The 2018–19 Budget measure Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership
Program, with particular reference to:
- the delivery of the Reef 2050
Plan, including through the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program
and through other avenues;
the proficiency of the Great
Barrier Reef Foundation and its capacity to deliver components of the Reef 2050
the proficiency of other
organisations and their capacity to deliver components of the Reef 2050 Plan;
the process of granting funding
to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation for the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership
Program, the terms of agreement for funding, and the ongoing administration of
the prior activities and
operations of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, including research, public
policy advocacy and fundraising;
the establishment, governance and
membership of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, including the management of
conflicts of interest and commercial interests; and
any other related matters.
On 25 June 2018, the Senate granted an extension of time to report until
15 August 2018.
On 13 August 2018, the Senate granted a further extension to
16 October 2018.
On 15 October 2018, the Senate extended the reporting date until
4 December 2018.
A final extension to 13 February 2019 was granted by the Senate on 4 December
Conduct of the inquiry
In accordance with its usual practice, the committee advertised the
inquiry on its website and wrote to relevant individuals and organisations
inviting submissions by 2 July 2018.
The committee received 24 submissions, which are listed at Appendix 1.
The committee held three public hearings in:
Brisbane on 30 July 2018;
Canberra on 18 September 2018; and
Canberra on 21 September 2018.
The list of witnesses who appeared at public hearings is at
Appendix 2. The public submissions, transcripts of evidence and other
information published by the committee for this inquiry are available on the
Additional information considered
by the committee
In this inquiry, the committee has also drawn upon evidence from
relevant departments and agencies taken during the Budget Estimates 2018–19
hearings of the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, the
Economics Legislation Committee, and the Finance and Public Administration
In addition, the committee has considered the documents made public as
part of various Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and documents tabled in
the Senate following orders for the production of documents.
Freedom of Information requests
Over the course of this inquiry, Commonwealth Government departments
have released documents under FOI provisions that are relevant to this inquiry,
including documents released by the Treasury (reference FOI 2325, released
17 August 2018); and the Department of the Environment and Energy
(the department) (reference FOI 180514, released 27 August 2018).
The committee understands that an FOI request was lodged with the Great
Barrier Park Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), which has not resulted in the
publication of any documents.
Additionally, according to its FOI disclosure log 2018, the Department of
Industry, Innovation and Science has not published any FOI documents relating
to the Partnership Agreement.
Orders for the production of
The Senate agreed to several orders for the production of documents in
relation to the matter being inquired into by this committee, which will be
outlined in turn.
On 20 June 2018, the Senate agreed to the following order (notice of
motion no. 857):
That there be laid on the table by the Minister for Jobs and
Innovation, by no later than 9.30 am on 27 June 2018, documents relating to the
Great Barrier Reef Foundation generated since 1 July 2017 and held by:
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; and
- the Australian
Institute of Marine Science.
Documents pursuant to this order were tabled on 13 April 2018.
On 15 August 2018, the Senate agreed a subsequent order (notice of
motion no. 954), as follows:
That there be laid on the table by the Minister for Jobs and
Innovation, by no later than 9.30 am on 21 August 2018:
held by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science relating to the
announcement, establishment and implementation of the partnership with the
Great Barrier Reef Foundation; and
held by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) relating to the
announcement, establishment and implementation of the partnership with the
Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
However, pursuant to the order of 21 August 2018, the relevant Minister,
Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, tabled a letter that stated:
Given the short period of time since the order was made and
the wide scope of the order, encompassing a Commonwealth department and agency,
further time will be required to respond. A response will be provided to the
Senate as soon as possible. I have copied this letter to Senator Cormann and
The following day, 22 August 2018, the Senate took note of the
explanation made by the Minister, Senator Cash, regarding the failure to comply
with the order of 15 August 2018.
A further order for the production of documents was passed by the Senate
on 21 August 2018 (notice of motion no. 978), requiring:
That there be laid on the table by the Minister representing
the Minister for the Environment and Energy (Senator Birmingham), by no later
than 10 am on 10 September 2018, documents held by the Department of the
Environment and Energy that demonstrate that, before the grant of $444 million
to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (the Foundation) was approved:
diligence was carried out on the Foundation; and
was provided of the capacity of the Foundation to manage a grant of this size
and to reduce its administration costs by approximately 50%.
Documents responding to the order of 21 August 2018 were tabled in the
Senate on 10 September 2018, with some documents withheld, claiming a
public interest immunity for legal advice provided to government. Regarding
this claim, on 17 September 2018, the Senate passed an order for the
production of documents (notice of motion no. 1050):
the Senate notes that:
- on 21
August 2018, the Senate agreed to an order for the production of documents
directed at the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and
Energy for documents relating to the grant of $444 million to the Great Barrier
Reef Foundation (the Foundation), including documents demonstrating due
diligence was carried out on the Foundation;
- on 10
September 2018, the duty minister tabled the index to a due diligence report
prepared by the Australian Government Solicitor but did not table the body of
the report, making a public interest immunity claim of legal professional
- to the
extent that the report fulfils a due diligence task, it cannot be characterised
as legal advice and, therefore, cannot attract the privilege–it is noted that
the document comprised largely information that is available online free of
charge or for a nominal fee, such as company details, insolvency notice search
results, media searches, ASIC personal name search results, and AUSTLII case
Senate does not accept legal professional privilege as a basis for a claim of
public interest immunity unless it is established that there is some particular
harm to be apprehended by the disclosure of the information;
- in Egan
v Chadwick, Chief Justice Spigelman held that 'in performing its
accountability function, the Legislative Council may require access to legal
advice on the basis of which the Executive acted, or purported to act...access
to such advice will be relevant in order to make an informed assessment of the
justification for the Executive decision. In my opinion, access to legal advice
is reasonably necessary for the exercise by the Legislative Council of its
- as a
country that upholds the rule of law, the Government must not rely on
conventions, no matter how longstanding, that are contrary to established
principles in law.
the Senate does not accept the public interest immunity claim made by the then
Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy (Senator
Birmingham) in relation to the due diligence report prepared by the Australian
Government Solicitor, and requires the Minister representing the Minister for
the Environment to table the due diligence report, in accordance with the order
for the production of documents agreed to by the Senate on 21 August 2018, with
any appropriate redactions where there is some particular harm to be
apprehended, accompanied by a properly made out claim for public interest
immunity identifying the harm.
On 17 September 2018, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, Assistant Minister
for International Development and the Pacific, made a statement by leave on the
public interest immunity claim made regarding order of 17 September 2018,
The due diligence report constitutes legal advice. The
government did not claim public interest immunity on the basis of legal
professional privilege, but on that basis there is public interest in the
government's legal advice remaining confidential. This is based on the
longstanding practice of successive Australian governments. There is a
significant public interest in government having access to confidential legal
advice for the purposes of policy development and decision-making. The
government sees no reason to depart from this principle in this case.
Some documents were tabled responding to the order of
20 September 2018, by Senator Cash, the Minister for Jobs and
Information provided by Mr Malcolm
Turnbull, former Prime Minister
The committee sought information about the award of the grant from the
Hon Malcolm Turnbull, who was Prime Minister at the time that the decision
was made to fund the Partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (Foundation
The committee put questions on notice to Mr Turnbull on 24 September
2018, which he provided a response to on 1 October 2018.
The committee wrote to Mr Turnbull again on 6 December 2018, offering him
the opportunity to give further evidence to the inquiry in person, which he
declined by email on 24 December 2018.
The committee agreed to conclude its deliberations with the evidence
Structure of the report
This report comprises six chapters, as follows:
The remaining discussion in this chapter provides a background of
the issues considered by this inquiry, including the Great Barrier Reef 2050
Partnership Program Budget measure, and the principal stakeholders in the Reef
Chapter 2 looks at the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (the
Foundation), its history, governance and fundraising activities, and its
funding of research projects and program delivery. It also sets out evidence
about the development of the conditions of the Grant Agreement establishing the
Foundation Partnership between the Commonwealth and the Foundation.
Chapter 3 looks at the available information about the
development of the Foundation Partnership measure by the Commonwealth, as well
as how the decision to award an unprecedented $444 million was reached.
Chapter 4 sets out the matters raised in evidence received by the
committee regarding the probity of the decision to award unprecedented grant
funding to the Foundation, the risks of the Foundation's administration of the
grant, and shortcomings of the policy in addressing the real causes of damage
to the Great Barrier Reef (the Reef);
Chapter 5 provides an overview of the Auditor-General's
performance audit of the award of the grant to the Foundation; and
Chapter 6 sets out the committee's views and recommendations.
The committee thanks all of the individuals, organisations, and
government departments and agencies that contributed to the inquiry.
Overview of the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program
On 29 April 2018, the then Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP,
announced record Commonwealth funding of more than $500 million 'to protect the
reef, secure its viability and [safeguard] the 64 000 jobs that rely on
Mr Turnbull stated that these measures would 'accelerate the delivery' of
activities under the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan).
The Reef 2050 Plan is a collaborative framework between the Commonwealth and
Queensland Governments for protecting and managing the Reef, which has been in
operation since March 2015.
The announcement of 29 April 2018 outlined that this funding would
include a grant of $443.8 million to establish a Foundation Partnership,
under which the Foundation would disburse funding to other organisations for
In addition, increased funding of $56 million was provided to GBRMPA 'to expand
environmental management and compliance operations on the Reef and to support
this significant additional investment in the Reef'.
Regarding the Foundation Partnership, Mr Turnbull stated that the
$444 million grant would be apportioned to programs in the following
$201 million to address water quality by further improving
farming practices, reducing fertiliser use and increasing the uptake of new
technology and land management practices.
$100 million to harness the best science in the implementation
reef restoration and adaptation and to fund innovative projects that support
$58 million to expand efforts in the fight against the
coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.
$45 million to support the other work of the Foundation, in
particular increasing community engagement in reef protection through
activities such as supporting Indigenous traditional knowledge for sea country
management, coastal clean-up days and awareness raising activities.
$40 million to improve Reef health monitoring and reporting that
tracks progress and informs better management.
The proposed $444 million grant was described as a
'ground-breaking...agreement to tackle crown-of-thorns starfish, reduce pollution
into the Reef and mitigate the impacts of climate change'. The media release
also stated that the Foundation was a 'highly respected philanthropic
organisation [with] a strong fundraising track record', and would continue to
'seek corporate contributions to further enhance this work'.
More detail on this funding was provided in the 2018–19 Budget,
handed down by the then Treasurer, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, on
8 May 2018. The Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program Budget
measure outlined $535.8 million total funding for the following measures:
funding of $443.8 million delivered in 2017–18 for a partnership
agreement with the Foundation; and
funding of $56 million over five years to the department and
GBRMPA to expand environmental management and compliance operations related to
the Foundation Partnership, including: ongoing funding of $13.4 million across
the six years of the program for the department (commencing with $10.1 million
in 2018–19); funding of $42.7 for GBRMPA from 2019–20 to
There was no grant-related funding for the Australian Institute of
Marine Science (AIMS).
The totality of this funding is set out in table
Table 1.1: Funding for the
Partnership Program, 2017–18 to 2023–24 ($ million)
of the Environment and Energy
Institute of Marine Science
Note: Figures may not add due to rounding.
Sources: Department of the
Environment and Energy, Portfolio Supplementary Additional Estimates
Statements 2017–18: Environment and Energy Portfolio, May 2018, p. 2; Portfolio
Budget Statements 2018–19: Budget Related Paper No. 1.6—Environment and Energy
Portfolio, May 2018, pp. 28 and 239.
Stakeholders in the Reef management sector
This section provides a general overview of the Commonwealth and
Queensland Governments' approach to the management of the Reef, as well as some
background information on organisations working in the Reef-related sector.
This provides important context for the following chapter, which discusses the
Foundation's history and capacity in program delivery, and the Government's
decision to grant funding to the Foundation.
The Commonwealth–Queensland Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan
In 2015, the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments released the
Reef 2050 Plan (the Plan), a Commonwealth-state collaborative framework
for the management of the Reef. The department outlined the nature of the Plan
in its submission:
The Plan includes clear actions to address threats and to
build the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef in the face of a changing
climate. The actions are structured around seven overarching themes—ecosystem health, biodiversity, heritage,
water quality, community benefits, economic benefits and governance. These
themes reflect the priority areas for action identified by governments and
partners to protect the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.
The department went on to note that the Reef 2050 Plan has been
endorsed, and its implementation commended, by UNESCO's World Heritage
Committee. In addition, the Reef 2050 Plan:
...builds on the strong, long-standing commitment by the
Australian and Queensland governments to protect and manage the Reef. It
incorporates the knowledge and
expertise of scientists, communities, Traditional Owners, industry and non-government organisations. Successful implementation of
the Reef 2050 Plan relies on ongoing productive partnerships between all
The Plan is overseen by a Ministerial Forum of Commonwealth and
Queensland Government ministers. It is supported by two advisory bodies: the
Reef 2050 Independent Expert Panel, which provides scientific and expert
advice; and the Reef 2050 Advisory Committee, to give industry and community
perspective of the Plan's implementation.
An outline of the governance framework for the Reef 2050 Plan is shown
at Figure 1.2.
Figure 1.2: Reef Trust governance
Source: Treasury FOI 2325, Document 2, p. 2.
Following mass coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, the Ministerial
Forum brought the mid-term review of the Plan forward to mid-2018. This review
updated the 2050 Plan with some immediate actions to be undertaken before 2020,
which also reflect the findings of GBRMPA's Blueprint for Resilience
released in December 2017.
The review did not significantly alter the overarching targets, actions or
outcomes of the Plan, although it did emphasise the increasing need to focus on
climate change as a cause of stress and damage to the Reef:
There is a stronger focus on climate change as a key
pressure. The Plan cites linkages to international efforts and domestic plans
and strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, such as the Paris
Agreement and the Queensland Climate Transition Strategy.
The Plan's implementation framework has seven overarching themes:
ecosystem health; biodiversity; heritage; water quality; community benefits;
economic benefits; and governance. These 'reflect the priority areas for action
identified by governments and partners'.
The department submitted that the successful implementation of the Plan
relies on collaboration and partnerships between a range of stakeholders,
including Commonwealth and state government agencies, local governments,
Traditional Owners, National Resource Management (NRM) organisations,
on-ground service providers, and the wider community.
The Reef Trust
Partnerships under the Plan are funded through the Reef Trust. Described
as one of the Commonwealth Government's key initiatives to implement the Plan,
the Reef Trust was established in 2014–15 with funding of $39.9 million over
four years. The first phase commenced in 2014 with a small number of projects
focussing on improving water quality and biodiversity. A further $100 million
was provided in the 2015–16 Budget over four years. In the 2016–17 Budget, an
additional $70 million was provided over the three years from 2019–20.
The department noted that the $210 million allocated up to 2016–17 'complements
and builds on the existing Australian Government investment of over $160
million for a range of activities focussed on addressing the threat of
declining water quality, ecosystem rehabilitation and species protection'.
With the additional funding allocated in April 2018 (including the $444 million
partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation), total Commonwealth Government
investment is approximately $700 million through the Reef Trust.
The Reef Trust was also designed to draw further investment from other
sources, including private investment and philanthropic donations:
The Reef Trust has been designed to consolidate investment
from a variety of sources. Funding for the Reef Trust will be derived from the
pooling of offset funds that target specific impacts on the Great Barrier Reef
from development activities. Over time the Reef Trust will also evolve to
increase its investment capacity to incorporate alternative resourcing
mechanisms, such as private investment and philanthropic donations.
The department noted that 'in recent years, there has been an increasing
interest from the government and the private and community sector in the role
of private-public partnerships as a successful way of delivering outcomes'.
The department provided a list of partnerships delivered through the
Reef Trust. Commonwealth funding for these partnerships ranges from $4.5
million to $7 million supplemented by funding from other sources, to
deliver on-ground projects:
$7 million from the Australian Government matched with $7 million
raised by Greening Australia to repair over 700 hectares of priority wetlands
and coastal ecosystems;
$4.5 million from the Australian Government to support an
estimated $12.8 million investment from sugar milling company, MSF Sugar,
to assist sugar-cane farmers to improve on-farm nutrient management and thereby
improve the quality of water entering the Reef;
$5 million from the Australian Government, matched with up to $5
million raised by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, to restore and conserve
priority island ecosystems; and
$5 million from the Australian Government, supplemented by $2.1
million from the Queensland Government, to trial enhanced efficiency
fertilisers as a means to better control the release of nutrients to match crop
requirements, potentially increasing cane yields and farm productivity and
The department also provided an overview of the $444 million Foundation
Partnership, which will be delivered through the Reef Trust. This will be
discussed in depth later in this report.
Organisations working in the
The Reef-related sector is diverse, and has a number of organisations
working in research, management and program delivery. It includes Commonwealth
and state government agencies as well as non-government organisations, some of
which are outlined here.
GBRMPA is the Commonwealth agency that is the lead manager of the Reef,
reporting to the Minister for the Environment. Its website outlines its
purpose, governance and activities:
For more than 40 years, we've been managing this great
natural icon to ensure it's protected for the future.
Our work is guided by:
The Great Barrier Reef Marine
Park Act 1975
Our Corporate Plan
Australian Government policies
Portfolio Budget Statement
- The Great Barrier Reef Outlook
and government priorities.
We use the best available scientific information to guide us,
and engage with experts and the community. This includes four Reef Advisory
Committees and 12 Local Marine Advisory Committees.
Out on the water, field management and enforcement of zoning
rules is carried out with Queensland and Australian Government agencies on our
We provide a number of other services to protect and manage
the Reef ranging from issuing permits, providing advice on marine management,
and operating our education centre Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium.
AIMS is the Commonwealth's tropical marine research agency. Its website
We play a pivotal role in providing large-scale, long-term
and world-class research that helps governments, industry and the wider
community to make informed decisions about the management of Australia’s marine
AIMS also monitors conditions and trends in the marine environment, data
collection and modelling to support policy decision making, and also develops a
broad range of relevant technologies.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
is an independent Commonwealth Government agency responsible for undertaking
scientific research. It has a 'long history of working with partners in the
Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and its adjacent catchments, spanning the full continuum from inland
to outer reef'. This includes its current work with AIMS on delivering
components of the Reef 2050 Plan through developing a scoping study informing
the development of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP).
AIMS, CSIRO and GBRMPA are all partners in the RRAP in collaboration
with other non-government partners, including the University of Queensland,
Queensland University of Technology, and the Foundation.
This program aims to 'create a suite of innovative and targeted measures that
can be used for large-scale reef restoration and adaptation, to help the Reef
In 2018, the Commonwealth provided $6 million to establish a scoping and
'concept feasibility phase' for the RRAP, which will inform the spending of a
further $100 million allocated by the Government for reef resilience and
adaptation science from 2019.
The Queensland Government has a number of portfolio agencies working on
Reef protection and management.
A number of non-government charity organisations centre on the Reef. In
addition to the Foundation, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS),
the Reef and Rainforest Centre (RRAC), Reef Check Australia, the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF), and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) all have interests
in the Reef.
2017–18 Government measures for Reef-related activities
On 22 January 2018, the Government announced a $60 million investment to
drive research and development for Reef-related activities:
This $60 million funding boost over 18 months will set in motion
a major research and development (R&D) program for coral reef restoration.
$6 million will go to the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the
CSIRO to scope and design this program over the next 18 months, including
looking at how best to leverage private investment.
We will also ramp-up actions to help the Reef right now:
- $10.4 million for an all-out assault on coral-eating
crown-of-thorns starfish. This will allow the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Authority to increase the number of vessels targeting starfish from three to
- $36.6 million to further reduce pollution from water
entering the Reef. This builds on our success with farmers reducing soil
erosion, improving on-farm nutrient management and restoring coastal and
riparian vegetation in the Reef catchments
- $4.9 million to put more field officers on the water,
improving compliance, and providing early warning of further bleaching and
delivering more reef and island management interventions.
This suite of measures included funding for the RRAP, as outlined above.
Australian National Audit Office audit of the Partnership
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) identified the design of the
Partnership as a potential audit under its 2018–19 work program. The ANAO
stated that an 'audit of the design of the partnership model would include
examining governance arrangements to support the effective implementation of
programs covered by the partnership'.
On 13 August 2018, Mr Finn Pratt AO PSM, Secretary of the department
wrote to the Auditor-General, Mr Grant Hehir, to request that an audit be
undertaken of the Government's Foundation Partnership. Mr Pratt commented that
'given the intense public and media interest over the last few weeks, I
consider such an audit has become a priority and ask that you consider
approving it going ahead and starting as soon as practicable'.
Mr Pratt noted that this ANAO audit:
...would examine the
Department of the Environment and Energy's design of the Australian
Government's $444 million partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to
deliver water quality improvements, crown of
thorn starfish control, science for reef restoration, increased community
engagement and improved monitoring...[as well as that]
an audit of the design of the partnership model would include examining
governance arrangements to support the effective implementation of programs
covered by the partnership.
On 24 August 2018, the Auditor-General advised the committee that he had
'decided to conduct a performance audit of the Award of a Grant to the Great
Barrier Reef Foundation'. The ANAO proposed to examine the following criteria:
- Was appropriate departmental advice provided to Ministers to inform the
decision to establish a tied partnership fund with the Great Barrier Reef
Were comprehensive program guidelines developed that complied with the
requirements of the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines?
Was the decision to award a grant to the Foundation informed by written
departmental advice that met the content requirements of the Commonwealth
Grants Rules and Guidelines?
Was there appropriate scrutiny of the Foundation's proposal to inform
departmental advice on whether a grant should be awarded, and the subsequent
development of a grant agreement?
The Auditor-General's report on the award of the grant to the Foundation
was presented to the Parliament on 16 January 2019.
The findings are discussed in chapter 5 of this report.
The Auditor-General has also advised that:
The ANAO will also consider undertaking a second audit
relating to the partnership, commencing later in 2019–20. This is because,
while a grant agreement has been signed, and all funds paid, key aspects of the
design of the partnership have not yet been finalised.
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