The national audit watchdog is considering whether to speed up an investigation into the $444 million given to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
Environment Department secretary Finn Pratt has written to Auditor-General Grant Hehir asking him to bring forward a proposed audit of the controversial grant due to increased public and media attention.
“I consider such an audit has become a priority and ask that you consider approving it going ahead and starting as soon as practicable,” Mr Pratt wrote on Monday.
Auditor-General Grant Hehir had already listed an audit into the reef grant as “potential” within the next 12 months, but confirmed he is considering bringing it forward.
The government is under mounting pressure over its decision to grant the funds to the foundation without a competitive tender process.
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg told parliament the environment department found the grant represented “value for money”.
He said the partnership had been established through a grant agreement that met all relevant laws and rules.
Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said the government kept digging itself deeper.
“Every time the government answers a question it gives rise to the next question,” he said on Monday night.
Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said no one from the government contacted her – or anyone else in the foundation – about a due diligence process into the grant.
“I wasn’t aware that the diligence process was underway, no,” she told ABC radio.
Asked if anyone else in the foundation was contacted, she replied: “No.”
She said she’d heard some details about the due diligence process while listening to a Senate inquiry looking into the grant.
Ms Marsden said the foundation learned on April 9 it would receive the money and “afterwards we had to do an application”.
That was the day she and foundation chair John Schubert attended a private meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Frydenberg and Mr Pratt.
“We had to certainly demonstrate value for money and our track record,” she said of the retrospective application.
Labor has called for the grant to be handed back.
The foundation’s partners include businesses like Qantas and BHP and institutions such as ANU and the federal Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.