Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is taking responsibility for a controversial half-billion dollar grant awarded to a small Great Barrier Reef charity.
Labor senator Kristina Keneally is leading a charge against the Turnbull government over the ‘curious’ $444 million taxpayer-funded injection to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
Senator Keneally believes the grant was handed over in a mad rush earlier this year.
‘This is a strange way to administer public money,’ she told Sky News on Sunday.
‘You would think there’d be some robust process behind it.’
Mr Frydenberg said the grant was contained in a budget submission he took to cabinet, but refused to clarify whether or not it was his idea.
‘This was not an idea developed overnight,’ he told the ABC.
‘It goes back to early last year when my department chaired an inter-departmental task force looking at how we meet the challenges from the reef.’
He would also not be drawn when quizzed about what steps were taken to ensure the foundation was the best candidate for the public money.
‘There was extensive due diligence,’ Mr Frydenberg said.
‘The foundation was chosen because it is the best organisation to leverage off the private sector.’
Mr Frydenberg argued it was not unusual the grant was handed over in one lump sum.
‘The money is to be spent over six years,’ he said.
‘By giving it all at once, they have maximum leverage to enter into contracts and start providing the money as needed as they meet their objective.’
Senator Keneally said the opposition would continue to probe the issue when parliament resumed on Monday.
‘Labor will continue to pursue this through the (ongoing) Senate inquiry and every other avenue available to the opposition,’ she said.
Labor has called for the grant to be handed back to taxpayers and managed with probity.