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Australian PM under fire for grant for Great Barrier Reef research

Published : 10 Aug 2018, 23:55

  DF-Xinhua Report

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks at University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 7, 2018. Photo Xinhua.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is facing pressure to explain a large grant given to a foundation that never applied for the funding.

Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg, Minister for Energy and the Environment, offered the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) a 444 million Australian dollars (327 million U.S. dollars) grant in a private meeting with directors of the foundation in April, the largest non-profit grant in Australian history.

However, it has since emerged that the foundation was given the grant without going through the tender process or planning how it would spend the money.

Graham Richardson, a political commentator, described the decision as "the worst piece of public administration I have seen."

"The foundation employs only a handful of people and is spectacularly ill-equipped to manage the huge task handed to it," Richardson wrote in a column for News Corp Australia on Friday.

"The 444 million Australian dollars given to the GBRF without tender and without any consultation with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is arguably the worst piece of public administration I have seen in more than four decades of close observation," he wrote.

"Sooner or later, the prime minister will have to answer detailed questions on this."

The prime minister has insisted that the process was "very thorough," a claim that has been challenged by current and former directors of the GBRF.

Michael Myer, a member of the GBRF board between 2000 and 2002, described the grant as "unthinkable," saying that the organization only had six staff.

"The notion of an organization with six staff members suddenly having to manage 444 million Australian dollars, from a not-for-profit and philanthropic point of view is unheard of," Myer told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Thursday.

"It actually is quite shocking and almost mind-blowing. I think the government's judgment is really poor."