Australia

'Value for money': Treasurer defends $444 million Great Barrier Reef grant

The Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia in December 2017. Source: AAP

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insists a $444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation is value for money, despite the charity asking for just $5 million.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg continues to defend a massive taxpayer-funded grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation as leaked correspondence sheds light on the sheer scale of the gift.

Internal emails obtained by Fairfax Media show the private charity asked for $5 million, but was instead given close to $444 million earlier this year.

Mr Frydenberg, who was environment minister at the time, said his department put in writing to him that the contribution to the foundation represented value for money.

He says the contribution went through the government's standard spending review committee process.

"The first thing to say is the Barrier Reef needs more funding," Mr Frydenberg told 2GB radio on Friday.

"The foundation is the single largest charity for the reef in the country."

Treasurer Frydenberg said the grant was the right thing to do. 

"We have funded where Labor failed to fund it, so we put in place a $2 billion 2050 Reef plan with the Queensland government," he said.

“This contribution went through an ERC (Expenditure Review Committee) process.

"My department put in writing to me that the contribution to the Reef foundation would represent value for money and that it would meet the objectives of protecting the reef."

Labor senator Kristina Keneally, who is demanding the grant be returned, is concerned the foundation plans to spend $33 million of it this year.

"If Labor wins the next election we will cancel that contract, we will have a change in policy, and we will take that money back," Senator Keneally told Sky News.

"We intend to take this money back should we form government, and spend it through the public sector agencies that are tasked and resourced to look after the reef."

A Senate inquiry into the grant continues today, and will hear from senior bureaucrats from the finance, treasury and environment departments.

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