The Great Barrier Reef Foundation and crony capitalism

BY JOHN MENADUE | 9 August 2018

Just imagine if a Labor prime minister handed out a $444 million grant to a small reef ‘charity’ without any due process. The Murdoch media would be even more apoplectic than usual. There is a lack of transparency and probity in this case. The chairman’s panel for this reef charity is full of mates.

Consider the facts:

.  This is not a grant of $4 million – or even $40 million. It is $444 million.

.  It is the largest government donation to a private foundation in Australian history. Will it be paid in one lump sum?

There was no tender process and as a result, CSIRO and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority were excluded.

. The $444 million was offered during a private meeting on 9 April this year. Those present were the foundation chair, John Schubert, Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg  and Finn Pratt, the Secretary of Frydenberg’s department. What a cosy little group to doll out $444m.

The foundation has only six staff. That will require an awful lot of recruitment to spend $444 million.

The foundation did not suggest or make any application for the $444 million. It was an unsolicited grant and gift. Does Malcolm Turnbull appreciate that he is spending our money? It is surely not his to give away like this.

The foundation has a ‘Chairman’s Panel’ made up of chief executives and directors of some of our major companies – BHP, Rio Tinto, Shell, Peabody Energy, CBA, NAB, Qantas, J.P.Morgan and Macquarie Bank. There are 55 corporate members of the foundation who pay $20,000 each for membership. This is really the big end of town.

Michael Myer who played a key role in establishing the Great Barrier Reef Foundation  some years ago described the $444 million grant as “shocking and almost mind blowing”.

The government preaches small government but practices big government handouts in favours to polluters of the Great Barrier Reef and concessions to miners and vested interests far and wide. To divert attention the government persecutes people who draw attention to illegal activities of our intelligence services.  Remember the Haneef case!

There is a whole conga line of lobbyists, led by the IPA, the Minerals Council, the Business Council of Australia and the banks in extracting favours from their friends in government. And they succeed.  No wonder our schools, hospitals and TAFE are under-funded.

People everywhere are losing trust in leaders and in our institutions. Democracies are threatened all around the world by special interests and ultra-rightists.

We don’t even have a federal anti-corruption commission and the delay in setting up a royal commission into the behaviour of our banks and the resulting disclosures confirms our fears about many business executives and the crony capitalism that the $444 million unsolicited gift to the Barrier Reef Foundation demonstrates.

Most concerning of all is that scams like this have become so common place that those responsible don’t seem to understand or care.

POSTSCRIPT: Dead Shark Tank: The Great Barrier Reef – Tonightly With Tom Ballard

(John Menadue AO worked for Gough Whitlam, followed by a distinguished career in the public and private sectors. He headed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, was Ambassador to Japan, and later CEO of Qantas. Now retired, John is a patron of the Asylum Seekers’ Centre in Sydney. This article originally appeared in John’s own blog, “Pearls and Irritations“.)