Can the Government’s $400 Million Save the Great Barrier Reef?

The next budget includes a juicy cash injection for the natural wonder. But this environmental action could have ulterior motives.

It looks like the Great Barrier Reef could be a big winner in next month’s budget. Great news considering the tourist attraction and national wonder hasn’t been so lucky when it comes to global warming, coral bleaching, the influx of the crown-of-thorns starfish, and farming runoff.

The Australian has reported plans for a $400-million rescue operation that will build on the $60-million package announced this January. That early allotment of cash was to finance water-quality police, support farmers to reduce run off, finance research into bleaching, eradicate the aforementioned starfish, and fund a study into the creation of a more resilient “supercoral”.


The details of where this new $400 million will go are less clear, beyond that the majority of the spend will take place over 2018 and 2019. Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg didn’t give much away either when commenting to the paper: "I look forward to seeing what is in the budget when it is handed down by the Treasurer in a couple of weeks time."

The spend has been widely seen as as a way to solidify marginal seats along the north Queensland coast and win back the seat of Herbert, which is currently held by Labor. It’s also raised eyebrows from environmentalists, who have panned the coalition for their support of the new Adani coal mine which threatens the reef.

The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) have already hit back at the perceived hypocrisy. Speaking to AAP, chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy said: "Support for more dirty coal, like backing the Adani mega-mine and pushing low-ball pollution reduction targets under national energy policy, is inconsistent with a healthy Great Barrier Reef."

Away from politics, scientists have warned that any moves now are already too late to save the reef. Wilderness Society nature campaigner Jessica Panegyres told the AAP that unless land clearing in reef catchments and deforestation wasn’t dealt with, the package could have little impact.

The investment is dwarfed by the actual value of the natural wonder, which Deloitte Access Economics valued at $56 billion last year. It is also responsible for injecting $6.4 billion into Australia's national economy each year.