Great Barrier Reef: funding links to climate sceptics and political donors

by Michael West | May 10, 2018 | Energy & Environment, Government

Of the half a billion dollars earmarked for the Great Barrier Reef in Tuesday’s Budget, the lion’s share goes to a foundation with climate-denial links and whose patrons make the largest donations to the ruling Liberal National Party coalition.

The PR: “The investment comprises a new $444 million partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and $56 million for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Department of the Environment and Energy.”

The reality: The foundation has coal group Peabody Energy on its Chairman’s Panel. Peabody has funded anti-climate change activism. There are myriad other links to fossil fuel operators, including Mitsubishi, Rio Tinto, BHP, Origin Energy, AGL and ConocoPhillips Australia. Chairman John Schubert was formerly chairman and chief executive of Esso in Australia (parent Exxon has also been involved in advocating against climate science).

The PR: “It (The Foundation) started with an idea . . . the idea that everyone’s actions, big and small, are vital to the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

“It started with a small group of businessmen chatting at the airport while waiting for their flight, wanting to do something to help the Great Barrier Reef.”

The Reality: When contacted by, the Foundation said the four businessmen who had conceived the idea did not want to be identified.

There is no reason to doubt the bona fides and good intentions of the board and financiers of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation but it will be difficult for the enterprise to escape from “slush fund” claims that it is designed to run political cover for the government and its major donors.

The funding will also drive criticism, as with many other allocations and budget cuts, that  the 2018 Budget showers money on its fans and defunds its detractors.

There is no doubt that money allotted to the Foundation will find its way to scientists and worthy projects. But the question stands: why did the $500 million not go to the Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and other scientific organisations rather than a corporate foundation?

On a bright note, at least in the public disclosures, it would appear coal miner Adani and its Carmichael Project are not involved. Still the patrons include an array of miners, heavy polluters such as Qantas and Boeing, and Big Four rentseekers Deloitte and PwC.

A spokesperson confirmed that via the “partnership” of the Foundation with the federal government, the Department of Environment and Energy – under Minister Josh Frydenberg – would be key to partnership decisions. It’s all about the environment … and energy.

Michael West established Michael West Media in 2016 to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. West was formerly a journalist and editor with Fairfax newspapers, a columnist for News Corp and even, once, a stockbroker.

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