Everyone is currently losing their mind over Malcolm Turnbull handing over $444 million to his corporate pals in the name of the Great Barrier Reef. But, maybe we don’t get it.



Let’s play pretend for a bit.

Let’s pretend that you have to feel sorry for someone who really doesn’t deserve your empathy. And that person is the (current) Australian Prime Minister.

So, let’s pretend to feel sorry for Malcolm Bligh Turnbull for a moment. Because it has to be hard to send out racist dog whistles about statistically insignificant African gang violence when you really aren’t racist. And it must be rough on your sense of self to effectively deny climate science when you really are smart enough to take irrefutable scientific evidence as fact. And it’s gotta sting a little to sign off on a budget which denies funding increases to the national broadcaster, when you yourself are a demonstrated, proven, devoted, card-carrying friend to and fan of the ABC.

It’s gotta be a tough time for the fellow. But he’s Malcolm Turnbull. So, while we’re at it, let’s pretend he didn’t basically evoke Ayn Rand in saying that aged care workers who don’t get paid enough should simply aspire to get a better job (easy!), and let’s also pretend that he didn’t throw a tantrum on live television on election night in 2016 because he didn’t get enough votes. So, yeah, a) fuck that guy, and b) he’s got a sizeable bank balance, so, see a).

The headlines this week have spoken of a freshly-funded entity called The Great Barrier Reef Foundation having been granted a tidy sum of $444 million in federal government pocket money. This is a foundation whose membership comprises of the former head of the Commonwealth Bank, a director of Qantas and BHP Billiton, as well as execs from Origin Energy, Suncorp, GE Mining and Boeing. You know, the usual paragons of anti-capitalist sentiment, a ragtag bunch of patchouli-stank tree huggers who want to destroy free market economics and then make it mandatory for me to marry my neighbour’s dog. As you’d expect.

This is like when a vastly wealthy merchant banker hands folding money over to a homeless person and there just happens to be a camera crew nearby to capture it.

The thing is, if you want to take foundation chair John Schubert at his word, he probably does, in fact, have a fondness for the Barrier Reef, or what’s left of it. And if there are means by which to influence public policy to bring about its salvation, then more power to them (not that they lack power; Origin Energy is on the board). It does remain somewhat odd, just a smidge suspicious, that a foundation of this nature, whose participants have been what’s often (and lazily) referred to as “the top end of town”, and a foundation who have never actually sought out the kind of federal funding that just landed on their laps, should get it. One must be as optimistic as one can, but how does one avoid thinking this is all just way too sus? A bunch of overfed corporate behemoths who are dipping their toes in environmental consciousness…? It kind of smacks of cynical self-promotion, a “we-can’t-be-all-bad,-look-what-we’re-doing-in-Port-Douglas” kind of thing.

And they’d only ever been given $12 million by the government previously, as a deal set to match the donations made at the corporate level. So, all of a sudden, a sum just shy of half a billion dollars flows into their coffers, and an org devoted to selection causes and projects “of note” can spend my tax dollars on it. But why them? Why now? Why from this government, whose other half is made up of members of the National Party, an organisation who never got a vote from anyone who thinks that climate change is real, let alone sitting members of parliament who would believe that funds and resources should be devoted to “green” causes? It doesn’t make any actual sense. The Malcolm Turnbull of opposition, or of Ministerial post, or of QandA-panellist-fame, would be all for funding actual, insightful, scientific, useful, not-for-profit enterprises devoted to protecting the Reef.

But that was the pre-Faustian bargain Turnbull. The pre-compromised Turnbull, the one who looked to be the last great white hope of moderate, sensible, middle of the road liberalism, until his position was weakened by a surprisingly woke voting public…not just a petulant private school ninny who finally got to eat at the grown ups’ table and, once he got a taste for it, refused to relent his grip on power. (Yes, I know it’s rich coming from a fellow private school ninny from Sydney’s North Shore, but we can smell our own.)

There could be very noble intent on display here. But c’mon, let’s be real.

This is another bit of executive welfare disguised as a noble act, but hidden from plain view, which we just happened to see because of open Senate hearings. Kinda like when a vastly wealthy merchant banker hands folding money over to a homeless person and there just happens to be a camera crew nearby to capture it.

Nup. Not buying it.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t come as a huge shock that the PM is effectively doling out hand shandies to corporate heavyweights playing pretends with environmental causes. It’s a stretch, it’s not a plot twist I’d have scripted, but hey. A hand job is a hand job.

Mal, just remember to work the balls while you’re at it and you might get a tip left on the nightstand.


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