Great Barrier Reef Foundation gets $444million without a tender? How insulting

Granting half a billion dollars without a tender? It’s insulting to the intelligence of Australians

“We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.”

I remember very clearly hearing the then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull speak these words on the afternoon he mounted his challenge against the sitting PM Tony Abbott back in September 2015. He said it was time to give Australians the leadership they deserved.

“We need a style of leadership … that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it. We need advocacy, not slogans.”

Turnbull’s challenge was successful and he became Australia’s Prime Minister but has he stuck to his word?

About as assiduously as Tony Abbott stuck to the promise he made the following day that he would not snipe, undermine or wreck the new government. Which is to say, not at all.

On Thursday the Daily Telegraph reported that the PM said it was “unbelievable” that Bill Shorten was not aware of the allegations regarding Emma Husar, who announced she will not contest her seat at the next election on Wednesday. Turnbull wants an investigation.

My intelligence isn’t feeling respected at this point because this is the very same man who earlier this year maintained he was not aware of the affair his deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was entangled in with a former member of his staff.

The outing of the affair resulted in several weeks of political carnage and Turnbull being unaware of it until it became public knowledge seems implausible when even Mr Joyce himself concedes “everybody knew” about it.

But mostly my intelligence is feeling deeply insulted by the revelation that the federal government provided nearly half a billion dollars to a tiny organisation, without a tender process, without being asked, to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The provision of $444 million to conserve, research and monitor Australia’s natural wonder is not in itself problematic. It’s an extremely important cause but the government making a grant of that scale to an organisation that didn’t even make an application is problematic.

Frankly that any government would even entertain the idea of making a donation of that size without a tender process is brazen. Doing so when the organisation had just six members of staff at the time, has no strategic plans to reduce carbon emissions which are known to be the biggest threat to the reef and has links with big businesses makes it farcical.

Michael Myer, who was once on the board of the organisation that received the money and is familiar with grants through his family’s Myer Foundation, described it as “unthinkable” to ABC radio.

“It seriously is unthinkable that a grant of that size would be given to any single philanthropic charitable organisation in this country,” he said. “It’s an order of magnitude bigger than any grant that’s ever been given to a not-for-profit in Australia.”

If the Prime Minister thinks he’s respecting the intelligence of Australian voters I’d hate to see how disrespecting our intelligence might look.

Half a billion dollars is substantial and it’s beyond galling to consider it being given without oversight.

Can you imagine how many not-for-profits would be able to demonstrate exactly how they could use even one-tenth of that money to deliver meaningful change?

Organisations that battle for every single dollar to help the most vulnerable people in our communities. People running domestic violence shelters and providing food, support and housing for homeless men and women. Organisations that offer pro bono legal services and support for refugees. That help kids and families in need.

There is barely a not-for-profit in this country for which raising money is not the primary challenge. The hoops they have to go through to receive any government funding are considerable because in the realm of taxpayer funds accountability normally matters. As it should.

Which is why it is unconscionable – and insulting – that a tiny organisation could receive $444 million without so much as a tender.

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