Turnbull handed over nearly half a billion borrowed dollars to the private Great Barrier Reef Foundation
Malcolm Turnbull's $487,633,300.00 gift to the 6 employee strong Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) makes Australia's donations to the Clinton Foundation look like small change.
The gift came as a surprise to the GBRF. It did not apply for the money.
The Government did not issue any tender, nor did it offer the grant to other potential recipients.
There was no competitive process at all - and prior to the deal being offered to the GBRF no public servants were involved in negotiations.
No one knows what projects the GBRF will fund. We don't know in whose pockets our $500M will come to settle. Nor does anyone know what specific work will be done under the terms of the grant - in fact no one can say with certainty what work needs to be done on the reef.
The fact that none of those details have been worked out didn't stop Turnbull from handing over our money on the strength of one meeting.
Turnbull decided to make the money available - and he decided who would get it.
Turnbull must be on his legacy-conscious lap of honour. But the potential for mates to be looked after with work from the $500M slush fund can't be ignored either.
The effect of his "captain's call" is to bring forward what might otherwise be 6 years worth of grants that would be administered by the Department of the Environment, bundle all that money up - and hand it over to this private foundation. And yes, the almost $500M has already been handed over in full, earning interest while they work out what to do with it.
Here's an extract from the GBRF's 2017 (calendar year) annual report.
Note the date of the announcement - 29 April 2018 and the amount $443M.
The Government of Turnbull didn't finalise the paperwork until 20 June - and waited until 12 July to publish the details on the www.grants.gov.au website - and you'll note that in those 2 months the amount of the grant went up by about $44M.
Last Monday, the managing director of the GBRF Anna Marsden explained the history of the grant when she was called to give sworn evidence to a Senate Committee.
Ms Marsden: I'd like to state for the record that the foundation did not suggest or make any application for this funding. We were first informed of this opportunity to form a partnership with Reef Trust on 9 April of this year.
CHAIR: Who contacted you about that, and who did they speak to?
Ms Marsden: That was a meeting between the Prime Minister, Minister Frydenberg, the secretary of the department and our chair.
CHAIR: Just remind us who your chair is again.
Ms Marsden: Our chair is John Schubert.
CHAIR: There were no discussions prior to 9 April?
Ms Marsden: No.
CHAIR: Formal or informal?
Ms Marsden: No, nothing.
Ms Marsden was wrong about the Secretary of Frydenberg's department being there - he wasn't.
She followed up with this letter the next day.
To recap, on 9 April 2018 the GBRF hears about Turnbull's $500M gift for the first time.
The only people in the room are Turnbull, Frydenberg and the GBRF chair John Schubert.
(It's worth noting that Dr Schubert is a former Esso Australia chief, former deputy chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board and former chief of the Business Council of Australia. He has quite a resume involving substantial mergers and acquisitions and corporate engineering and it would be surprising to hear he'd not dealt with Turnbull during those travels.)
Ms Marsden told the Senate committee what happened over the next 7 days:
CHAIR: What was the chain of events following that? Did they inform you that you would be receiving this funding, or did they seek advice or consultation with you on any aspects or whether it would be feasible?
Ms Marsden: We were informed that there was an allocation being announced in the upcoming federal budget and that they would like to invite the foundation to form a partnership with Reef Trust to distribute these funds across five component areas of the Reef 2050 plan.
CHAIR: Was that meeting about anything else, or was it set up to give you this information?
Ms Marsden: We didn't know ahead of the meeting what it was for, but, once we were in the meeting, that was the sole purpose of the meeting, yes.
CHAIR: Who else was at that meeting apart from the chairman?
Ms Marsden: It was only the chairman.
CHAIR: So you weren't there yourself?
Ms Marsden: No, I wasn't. The meeting took place in Sydney.
CHAIR: Following that, were you asked to provide any advice or feedback to the minister or the secretary— presumably not the Prime Minister—about a decision on whether you would accept that or not or whether it was feasible for you to take on that kind of funding?
Ms Marsden: Following that, I had a conversation with the secretary of the department, and we convened a teleconference with assistant secretaries of the department the next day to, I guess, unpack the different components, the intent of the funding and what would be the next steps if the foundation were to accept and enter into such a partnership.
CHAIR: In that meeting, did they put together some kind of timetable of ongoing discussions for you?
Ms Marsden: No.
CHAIR: When did you get back to the secretary or the minister's office about whether you were prepared to accept this funding or not?
Ms Marsden: What happened over the subsequent week was that there were a number of conversations where we came together on a series of collaboration principles. Then, once they were determined, we brought those to our board. Once they were approved, there was an exchange of letters between the minister and the chairman which cemented the agreement to enter into a partnership.
CHAIR: You said you didn't seek it, and I think we were aware of that before. You didn't plan for it. You didn't work to get these funds. Were you surprised at the meeting?
Ms Marsden: Yes.
CHAIR: Was Dr Schubert surprised? Did he express that to you?
Ms Marsden: Yes.
On 28 April, just 19 days after the initial meeting with Turnbull, this impressive video was published by Josh Frydenberg's department. It contains the same level of detail about deliverables (ie zilch) as the actual contractual documents.
Let's come back to the GBRF 2017 Annual Report - here are a couple of extracts:
The report also tells us GBRF distributed $5M odd in funding for reef projects in the past year. With 6 employees and deficits of $1.3M and $1.8M over the past two years the annual report doesn't tell a stellar story.
In fact it's almost impossible to see how this organisation is better placed to hand out $400M odd in grants than the Federal Government's Department of Environment itself. And why does it need all the money now - half a billion dollars?
The final grants, once made from the GBRF won't be subject to the same probity and reporting requirements that would apply if the department was handing out the money itself.
You can read the contract and explanatory notes here:
For now, I'll leave you with a taste of where our money has gone.
The Government of Turnbull has given the GBRF $22M to spend, immediately, on "scaling up".
What do we get for our $22M. Prepare to be shocked.
I'd have thought an organisation selected to hand out $400M odd in taxpayer funds would have already "scaled up" at its own cost before being selected to do the job.
But that's not the way the Government of Turnbull sees things.
I'll have much more to say about this unspeakable corruption.
It should be the last straw with Turnbull.