Following back-to-back coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 and Tropical Cyclone Debbie (in March/April 2017), the 2018–19 Budget included $535.8 million over five years from 2017–18 to accelerate the delivery of activities set out in the Reef 2050 Plan. The relevant budget measure included $443.3 million for a partnership grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (the foundation), and $5.2 million to the Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE or the department) to cover its costs of developing and oversighting the grant to the foundation.

An audit of the partnership with the foundation was included in the Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO’s) 2018–19 Annual Audit Work Program. The focus of the published topic was on the design of the partnership.

This audit is of the decision-making processes for the award of the grant to the foundation. It was undertaken in light of:

  • parliamentary and public interest in the processes that led to the decision to offer a $443.3 million grant to the foundation;
  • the size of the grant awarded through a non-competitive process with the full amount paid at the time the grant agreement was signed notwithstanding that the funded activity is to be delivered over six years (to 30 June 2024); and
  • requests received in August 2018 from the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee and the Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Energy that an audit of the partnership be undertaken as a matter of priority.

The objective of the audit was to assess whether the award of a $443.3 million grant to the foundation was informed by appropriate departmental advice and through processes that complied with the grants administration framework.

To form a conclusion against the audit objective, the ANAO adopted the following high-level criteria:

  • Was appropriate departmental advice provided to ministers to inform the decision to establish a tied partnership fund with the foundation?
  • Were comprehensive program guidelines developed that complied with the requirements of the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines (CGRGs)?
  • Was the decision to award a grant to the foundation informed by written departmental advice that met the content requirements of the CGRGs?
  • Was there appropriate scrutiny of the foundation’s proposal to inform departmental advice on whether a grant should be awarded, and the subsequent development of a grant agreement?

The scope of the audit included:

  • the decision-making processes that led to the decision to create a tied reef fund in 2017–18, with a partner outside the general government sector;
  • the identification of the foundation as this partner;
  • the development and application of program guidelines and a closed grant application process to give effect to the decision to offer the funding opportunity to the foundation; and
  • departmental scrutiny of the funding proposal submitted by the foundation.
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Auditor-General Report No.22 2018–19