Guest Notes

Reef notes

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

In for a penny, in for half a billion bucks

Okay, here’s an observation that ought to disturb you. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott got more negative press coverage for bestowing a knighthood on Prince Phillip and for eating a raw onion than current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has so far received for giving nearly half a billion dollars of taxpayer money to an obscure organisation known as the ‘Great Barrier Reef Foundation’.

Try for a moment to put out of your mind the train wreck that is this Team Turnbull reign and the leadership spill from last week and ask yourself how you would characterise the fact (because fact it is) that Team Turnbull has offered a little over $444 million dollars to this Great Barrier Reef Foundation even though it hadn’t asked for the money; even though there had been no competitive tenders; and even though Australia is presently running a bad deficit and racking up ever more debt, this Liberal government actually being a bigger spending outfit than its Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor predecessors – meaning it’s now impossible to take seriously anything this government says about spending restraint.

So think about that for a second.  The Great Barrier Reef Chairman goes to a dinner with Prime Minister Turnbull and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg and unprompted they offer him half a billion dollars, no further process required. On what possible planet is that a good way of running anything, let alone of running a supposedly right-of-centre government with at least a modicum of concern for the budget’s bottom line? Would you run your household like that? Or the small business you own? Would Robert Menzies have done anything like that? Yet PM Turnbull has defended the whole schemozzle by claiming that ‘this has been done completely transparently… [and has] been considered by Parliament and passed in legislation’. Balderdash, is my reply. Turnbull’s undermining and white-anting of Abbott was a few orders of magnitude more transparent than this process. Sure, parliament no doubt passed some Appropriations Bill that would cover the half billion dollars that Malcolm and Josh offered this Foundation. But that’s not anything like an open and transparent consideration by parliament, and everyone knows it.

Here’s what the timeline apparently looked like. First off, the Expenditure Review Committee (this ERC being a sub-group of Cabinet) decided back in late March that it wanted to find a commercial partner for a Great Barrier Reef plan. About eleven days later Turnbull and Frydenberg have a meeting with this Foundation’s Chair and stun him with a cool half billion of your and my money.  If that counts as a ‘completely transparent’ process then I think we may have to reclassify Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  It looks more like Henry VIII doleing out the proceeds on a grace and favour basis after dissolving the monasteries.

Worse, at least for those of us on the right side of politics in this country (a very depressed group, I can tell you), the ERC’s composition is a Who’s Who of Cabinet economic incompetents.  Kelly O’Dwyer of ‘let’s ruin faith in our superannuation system’ fame is a member.  So is ‘I can spend way more on schools and still infuriate the Catholics’ Simon Birmingham. So, too, is Scott Morrison, whose claims to being the worst Liberal Treasurer ever are now hard to deny.

Oh, and Michael McCormack is a member, too.  (Don’t worry if you don’t know who he is – I didn’t either at first. Turns out he’s our Deputy Prime Minister and Barnaby’s successor as Nationals leader.  Who knew?)  This ERC group also had as members the incredibly politically correct Michaelia Cash, the seemingly focused- on-a-private-sector-job in Western Australia Mathias Cormann and that political genius Mr Turnbull himself.

Read those names – all Turnbull supporters in last week’s spill, McCormack not having a vote – and you can’t help feeling that if any group of Liberal MPs would be dumb enough to authorise throwing half a billion dollars at some obscure foundation that hadn’t asked for it, no competitive tender process needed, this would be the group.

Nor do we know what the wider Cabinet knew about this either. In my view, the whole thing stinks to high heaven.  Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not in breach of any law. It’s just an appalling and profligate way to spend taxpayers’ money and an absolute disgrace coming from even this most Labor-lite of Liberal governments.

When Labor frontbench Tony Burke describes it as ‘completely unprecedented’, he’s right.

From my point of view the whole thing is even worse, even more of a slap in the face to the Liberal party’s voting base, because this Great Barrier Reef Foundation appears to be a paid-up member of the pro-Paris Agreement on climate change worldview – the outlook that has destroyed affordable and reliable energy in this country.

When I arrived in Australia in 2005, we had the democratic world’s lowest energy prices and now, a dozen years later, we have just about the highest. And this more than doubling of prices has all been driven solely by the decisions of our political class.

Where are the Liberal MPs who point out Bjorn Lomborg’s peer -reviewed research that these Paris Accords, if fully adhered to by all countries (which we know for a fact won’t happen), ‘would reduce global temperatures by 0.053 of a degree Celsius by the year 2100’?

In other words, Paris is a virtue-signalling joke; it’s a joke on stilts in a world in which the US, China and India pay no attention to it. But our Coalition government surprises some outfit wholly committed to it with an unasked for half a billion dollars. Who would have imagined back before the coup against Abbott that Josh Frydenberg would ever be brought this low?

To be fair though, Team Turnbull did not give the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s chair a knighthood. And Malcolm has no taste whatsoever for raw onions. So the usual left-leaning suspects in the media are happy.

Truly we live under the best of all possible Liberal governments.  After all, what’s half a billion dollars between friends?

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