Federal Labor has described a $444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation as an “extraordinary abuse of process”, as the national auditor considers whether to fast-track an inquiry into the handout.
Foundation managing director Anna Marsden has likened the taxpayer funding injection for the private sector reef charity to a lottery win.
“This is not just like winning the lottery, it’s like winning the lottery when you haven’t bought a ticket,” Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek told Sky News on Tuesday.
“It is an extraordinary abuse of process.”
The grant was given to the foundation, which has six staff, without a competitive tender process, and exact plans for how the money will be spent aren’t yet clear.
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg insists “extensive due diligence” was undertaken before the money changed hands, but Ms Marsden says nobody from the foundation was aware the diligence process was underway at that time.
Environment Department secretary Finn Pratt has written to Commonwealth Auditor-General Grant Hehir asking him to bring forward a proposed audit of the grant due to increased public and media attention.
“I consider such an audit has become a priority and ask that you consider approving it going ahead and starting as soon as practicable,” Mr Pratt wrote.
Mr Hehir had already listed an audit into the reef grant as “potential” within the next 12 months, but has now confirmed he’s considering bringing it forward.
Mr Frydenberg told parliament on Monday his department found the grant represented value for money and that it met all relevant laws and rules.
However, Labor has called for the “highly irregular” grant to be handed back.
The foundation’s partners include businesses like Qantas and BHP and institutions such as ANU and the federal Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.