JOHN MENADUE. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation and crony capitalism

Just imagine if a Labor prime minister handed out a $444 million grant to a small reef ‘charity’  without any due process.  The Murdoch media would be even more apoplectic than usual.  There is a lack of transparency and probity in this case.  The Chairman’s Panel for this reef charity is full of  mates and cronies.

Consider the facts.

  • This is not a grant of $4 million – or even $40 million. It is $444 million.
  • It is the largest government donation to a private foundation in Australian history. Will it be paid in one lump sum?
  • There was no tender process and as a result, CSIRO and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority were excluded.
  • The $444 million was offered during a private meeting on the 9th April this year. Those present were the foundation chair, John Schubert, Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg  and Finn Pratt, the Secretary of Frydenberg’s department. What a cosy little group to doll out $444m!
  • The foundation has only six staff. That will require an awful lot of recruitment to spend $444 million.
  • The foundation did not suggest or make any application for the $444 million. It was an unsolicited grant and gift. Does Malcolm Turnbull appreciate that he is spending our money? It is surely not his to give away like this.
  • The foundation has a ‘Chairman’s Panel’ made up of chief executives and directors of some of our major companies, including our major polluters – BHP, Rio Tinto, Shell, Peabody Energy, CBA, NAB, Qantas, J.P.Morgan and Macquarie Bank. There are 55 corporate members of the foundation who pay $20,000 each for membership. This is really the big end of town.

Michael Myer who played a key role in establishing the Great Barrier Reef Foundation  some years ago described the $444m grant as ‘shocking and almost mind blowing’.

The government preaches small government but practices big government handouts in favours to polluters of the Great Barrier Reef and concessions to miners and vested interests far and wide. To divert attention the government persecutes people who draw attention to illegal activities of our intelligence services.  Remember the Haneef case!

There is a whole conga line of lobbyists, led by the IPA, the Minerals Council, the Business Council of Australia and the banks in extracting favours from their friends in government. And they succeed.  No wonder our schools , hospitals and TAFE are under-funded.

People everywhere are losing trust in leaders and in our institutions. Democracies are threatened all around the world by special interests and ultra rightists.

We don’t even have a federal anti corruption commission and the delay in setting up a royal commission into the behaviour of our banks and the resulting disclosures confirms our fears about many business executives and the crony capitalism that the  $444m unsolicited gift  to the Barrier Reef Foundation demonstrates.

Most concerning of all is that scams like this have become so common place that those responsible don’t seem to understand or care. We really do have a national sickness.



John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

This entry was posted in Environment and climate, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation and crony capitalism

  1. Avatar Bruce Cameron says:

    I couldn’t find the “Style Guide” email address for ‘authors’, so offer the following contribution by this means:

    Letter to the AWM in Response to Feedback Sought for Renovation Plans.

    “Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made”.

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I have two matters which I think are relevant to all the Themes that you have proposed.

    The First relates to the casualty figures of conflicts.

    The information provided to the public by the AWM is limited to the numbers recorded on the Roll of Honour, i.e. those service personnel who died within the prescribed period of a conflict. There is no on-going recognition of those who die as a direct result of their active service after the end of the prescribed period. The AWM, for example, refers to 521 deaths being attributed to the Vietnam War, but hundreds of others have died as a result of their wounds after 29 April 1975. The impact on the Nation of a conflict cannot be defined in terms of the period during which service personnel were deployed. The Nation continues to bear the cost until all veterans are deceased. Why not acknowledge this total cost, in terms of not just the official casualty figures, but also the continually growing numbers of wounded living amongst us?

    The United States Vietnam Wall Memorial does this. Anyone who dies as a result of wounds inflicted by enemy action, has their name added to the Wall, no matter when their death occurs. Those who die as a result of causes attributable to the War, but not enemy related (e.g. illness, vehicle accident etc) are recorded on a Commemorative Roll inside the Wall. Those who are responsible for managing the Memorial, say that checking relevant details is time consuming, however, they are committed to acknowledging the service and sacrifice of each and every casualty. Should the AWM not also be committed this end?

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is now regarded as just as much a consequence of enemy action, as a physical wound. The mental illness often arises well after a conflict has ended. Suicide is a frequent consequence. The death of a service person by such means is as much a direct consequence of conflict as it is for those who are killed in action. But neither they, nor their families, are recognised by the AWM. The AWM website and information records refer only to the official figures. This is the information accessed by the Government when preparing commemorative addresses. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is responsible to assist those who suffer from the consequences of a conflict in which they served, BUT the AWM is responsible for the safekeeping their spirit. How can the AWM achieve its purpose if it has no idea of the number of casualties beyond the ‘official figures’?

    I put it to those who have a role in shaping the AWM’s future, that there are many spirits of those who served Australia in war, that do not lie in the AWM. The AWM cannot, in truth, state that it ‘guards the record that they themselves made’ when it does not know the names of the casualties of Australia’s conflicts … it knows only some. To be a place for ALL veterans and their families, the AWM needs to recognise ALL casualties and embrace them … not just those recorded in official statistics for the prescribed periods.

    When schoolchildren refer to the AWM website for their school projects, they should not write that the cost to Australia in terms of, for example, the Vietnam War was 521 killed … they should be able to gain an appreciation of the on-going cost and be conscious of how this affects the society in which they live. The AWM could contribute to this by incorporating figures from DVA in its ‘Fact Sheets’. Of course DVA might not wish to co-operate. May I suggest that it is incumbent on the Guardian of the spirits of Australian service personnel … to accurately represent and commemorate the service and sacrifice made by them ALL on behalf of the Nation.

    The Second relates to the service of indigenous Australians in defending their country.

    Australian service personnel died while defending their country against the Japanese in 1942. Indigenous Australians died when resisting British troops and others wanting to colonise their land. What is the difference?

    The sacrifice of those killed in Darwin and Sydney is commemorated in the AWM; the sacrifice of indigenous Australians is not. But both were trying to protect their families and deny the right of the invader to take their land.

    The Charter of the AWM refers to commemorating ‘formed units’. So WWII service personnel killed while defending their country can be recognised, but others cannot. It has to be acknowledged that the place of the AWM is commemorate Australian service personnel on active duty, so the spirits of civilians who died in Darwin and Sydney cannot be guarded by the AWM; but what of indigenous warriors? They were not part of ‘formed units’ as the term is applied today, however, they were in every other sense … soldiers protecting their families, land and possessions against an invader.

    As a former serviceman, I cannot begin to imagine the bravery of indigenous warriors opposing the ‘might’ of 19th Century military forces. But they did! They stood firm and resisted attacks. To my thinking, these ‘soldiers’ are just as much (if not more so) entitled to have their spirits guarded by the AWM, as is the case with service personnel from the Colonial Wars, Federation, and onwards.

    I dream of the day in which I could stand on the steps of the AWM on Anzac Day, alongside an indigenous Australian … both of us, paying respects to our forebears. (The AWM Charter can be amended to allow for this by a simple stroke of the pen by the responsible Minister … if there is a will to do so!)

    For those who are tasked with setting the course of the AWM’s future, please give consideration to embracing not only indigenous Australians who have served in ‘formed units’ since Federation, but also those who previously defended our country with all the bravery and sacrifice that we acknowledge in their successors. The example set by the actions of these ‘warriors’ in defending their lands, is something that all Australians can be proud of (the AWM has a role in making this known). It’s to be hoped that such selfless defensive efforts will never be required again.

    Many thanks for your consideration,

    Bruce Cameron

  2. Avatar Michael Keating says:

    Not only did Foundation not even solicit the grant, but they had no idea let alone plans about how to spend it. Frantic recruitment is trying to fill this critical gap, but the pressure to cut corners must be huge.

  3. Avatar Peter Hunter says:

    I have just discovered this email. How fortunate I feel. Shall pass it on.

  4. Avatar Tim Shaw says:

    It is certainly a tangled web they weave.
    But I believe that Finn Pratt didn’t attend the meeting mentioned, that was corrected in a letter from the Managing Director Anna Marsden to the Senate inquiry, correcting her earlier statement that he was there (see The Guardian 1st August). This would then imply that the participants were just the Prime Minister, the Energy Minister and the foundations chairman.

  5. Avatar JM Power says:

    The smartest thing that could be done with this huge amount of money would be to buy up the rundown grazing properties and farms that rain silt and nutrient on the reef. Re wilding these properties will mean trees that in a part way will replace the ones that have been destroyed in the race for sub standard agriculture. No amount of research will reverse the inevitable, at best it will only record the decline. We know what is destroying the reef, climate change and hinterland destruction.

  6. Avatar Mike Waller says:

    It is worse than that. After the event, the Government belatedly admitted to Parliament that Finn Pratt (nor any other official) was present at the gift giving. The Foundation may or may not be the best organisation to spend public money reversing the rapid deterioration of the reef. But we will never know because that has not be tested by any transparent evaluation process. As you say, the Oz, AFR and other Government/Business Council boosters would have launched a full frontal assault on any Labor Government making such an unsolicited gift. They remain silent while fulminating about the evils of unions and civil society bodies seeking to promote countervailing interests to those off Government supporters.

  7. Avatar Malcolm Crout says:

    Expect to see a few more like this as the outgoing Government (is there really any doubt?) feathers the nests of their cronies which will gain favours post election when these parasites are looking for a job. This could be fixed with a lengthy ((decade?) of non employment in the private sector for outgoing politicians. Even is they remain on the public teat for that period, it’s got to be worth avoiding the clear conflicts that have arisen over the last decade. Thanks Andrew Robb, Alexander Downer et al.

  8. Avatar Hal Swerissen says:

    My understanding is that the record was corrected and that in fact Finn Pratt was not in the meeting. So there were no public servants present.

  9. Avatar Nic Stuart says:

    Dear John,

    You state “(the) Murdoch media would be even more apoplectic than usual”.

    I’m sure your judgement is correct, but is this actually possible? How will we be able to tell? Could, perhaps, the number ’10’ be re-labelled ’11’?

  10. Avatar Lorraine Osborn says:

    Thanks for adding to the outrage about this shocker. Your question about whether the sling will be paid in a lump sum seemed to be answered by Anna Marsden, board member on ABC last night; she cheerily advised that the money was spread over term deposits. It’s difficult to comprehend the brazeness of Turnbull et al over this; then again, not only do they not care, they know there will not be any adverse consequences.

  11. ‘This is really the big end of town.’ Big, white Anglo-Celtic middle aged bloke end of town, too, as you’d expect, given the structure of corporate senior executives in Australia. Roughly 6 out of 55 or so are female.

Comments are closed.