Labor has written to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation warning there could be a change of Federal Government soon, so it should not spend too much of its controversial grant money before then.
The foundation currently has nearly half a billion dollars in federal government funding sitting in its bank accounts.
The Coalition handed it the money without any competitive tender process and without the foundation actually asking for it.
Labor has criticised that process, saying it should have been more open and competitive.
But the government has defended its decision, arguing the process was transparent and the foundation was a worthy recipient.
Now the shadow environment minister, Tony Burke, says he has found a way to claw most of the money back.
Mr Burke pointed to a clause in the funding agreement which allowed for it to be terminated immediately if there was “a material change in Australian Government policy that is inconsistent with the continued operation of this Agreement”.
He said a Labor government would change environment policy, giving him grounds to take back any unspent money.
That would include any interest earned and any sub-contracts made by the foundation.
The full sum was deposited into the foundation’s bank accounts in June and was intended to last six years.
But Mr Burke said given the next election was expected to be held within months, spending anything more than a “proportionate amount” would be “outrageous”.
But he was not sure how much money could realistically be recovered.
“I don’t know and that’s why we’ve written to the foundation to make it clear to them that they are on notice,” he said.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the foundation indicated it was sticking to the existing agreement.
“The Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s singular focus has always been delivering projects that protect and restore the Reef for future generations,” she said.
“The signed grant agreement with the Commonwealth includes obligations, processes and a requirement for annual work plans.
“We will deliver these obligations effectively and efficiently.”
But Labor has already begun making plans for how it could spend the money differently.
In the letter, it indicated all recovered funds would be invested in the reef via government agencies.
“We would do what the Government didn’t, and that’s take departmental advice,” Mr Burke said.
“Some of those programs will find their way through to farmers doing good work on the ground to try to reduce run-off.
“Some of the work will go directly to the CSIRO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
“A significant amount of it, you’d have to imagine, would go to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority itself.”