Secretive Great Barrier Reef Foundation reveals four founding leaders
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Secretive Great Barrier Reef Foundation reveals four founding leaders

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the charity controversially granted $443 million by the Turnbull government to co-ordinate reef research, has finally bowed to pressure to reveal the names of its four founding members.

The not-for-profit group, which is under scrutiny in a Senate inquiry, on Wednesday revealed its four founders in late 1999 to be Sir Sydney Schubert, Sir Ian McFarlane, John B Reid and David Windsor.

Fish swim among bleached coral in the Great Barrier Reef.

Fish swim among bleached coral in the Great Barrier Reef. Credit:Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

The disclosure confirms speculation, reported by Fairfax Media in May, that the late Sir Ian, a Queensland shale oil developer, had been among the founders. The organisation has previously declined to reveal its founders, and three of its directors have been unavailable to give evidence to the inquiry.

Of the others, late Sir Sydney was a prominent Queensland public servant and a founding director of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

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The authority is one of the government agencies, along with the CSIRO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, that now has to submit proposals to the foundation for research funds.

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Mr Reid has been described as the last of the family dynasty to run James Hardie, the company behind one of Australia's biggest asbestos producers.

Mr Windsor has been previously named as a founding manager director of the foundation.

"It is our understanding that Sir Sydney Schubert’s idea for forming the foundation was to create a charity to bring science and business together with a common purpose of protecting the Great Barrier Reef," the foundation said. "Eighteen years later, the foundation continues to lead the collaboration of business, science, government and philanthropy for the benefit of the Reef."

Attending the original meeting to form the charity was John Schubert, who currently serves as the foundation's chair. A spokesman for the group said Mr Schubert and Sir Sydney were unrelated.

The foundation's funding arrangements have come under scrutiny for the lack of a tender for the grant, which was delivered in full in the May budget and included in the 2017-18 financial year.

The foundation, which had just six full-time employees at the time of the grant's announcement, is expected to collect at least $22.5 million of the funds in payments for its operations.

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.