Government ditches $10m promotion blitz amid Great Barrier Reef furore
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Government ditches $10m promotion blitz amid Great Barrier Reef furore

The Morrison government has abandoned plans for a $10 million campaign promoting the Great Barrier Reef's promising future, after a public backlash over its failure to address climate change and protect the natural wonder.

An eminent reef scientist has also slammed as "not scientifically credible" claims by a charity gifted $444 million for reef conservation efforts that it will "climate-proof" the tourism icon.

Fairfax Media has learned the government has scrapped the $10 million reef communication campaign outlined in this year's federal budget.

The Morrison government has abandoned a $10 million pubic relations campaign to raise hopes about the future of the reef.

The Morrison government has abandoned a $10 million pubic relations campaign to raise hopes about the future of the reef.Credit:

The campaign would have sought to give the public hope that the reef can be saved and outlined action being taken to protect it, after devastating back-to-back coral bleaching events brought on by climate change.

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The government had been skittish about the spending measure, as reported last month when it emerged the Department of the Environment and Energy instructed officials to avoid revealing its true price tag.

In response to questions from Fairfax Media, the department confirmed the campaign "is not going ahead".

The department repeatedly refused to say why it ditched the campaign and how the taxpayer money would now be spent.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden at a Senate hearing to probe the grant.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden at a Senate hearing to probe the grant.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

A source familiar with the proposed campaign said the government recognised it "would be highly controversial and most likely counterproductive, and decided to pull the funding".

The government has been heavily criticised after announcing in April it would gift $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to implement conservation programs including water quality improvements and making the reef more resilient to climate change.

The foundation did not ask for the funds, and expert government agencies were not given the opportunity to apply. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was then treasurer, has taken responsibility for the decision which is now being examined by a Senate inquiry.

WWF Australia head of oceans Richard Leck said the move to dump the promotions effort showed "it doesn't matter how many millions you spend on trying to spin your reef-saving credentials, without an effective policy on climate change the public simply won't believe it, and the government has finally realised that".

A major report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this month warned that an average global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees would substantially and irrevocably damage the world's coral reefs, and a 2 degree rise would virtually destroy them. The world is currently on track for a global temperature rise of 3 to 4 degrees by 2100.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation is supported by corporations including those from the polluting fossil fuel industry. It does not lobby for emissions reduction, despite recognising that climate change is the biggest threat facing the reef.

Earlier this month, the foundation's managing director Anna Marsden said its activities would "essentially ensure we can climate-proof our coral reefs".

Internationally renowned reef expert Terry Hughes scoffed at the suggestion, telling Fairfax Media it was "not scientifically credible".

Respected reef expert Terry Hughes said Ms Marsden's claims were "not scientifically credible".

Respected reef expert Terry Hughes said Ms Marsden's claims were "not scientifically credible".Credit:Jason South

"The only way to deal with global warming is to tackle global warming. It isn't possible to climate-proof the reef," he said, adding that further significant damage was inevitable.

"Nothing in the $444 million allocation will do anything about reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

A Great Barrier Reef Foundation spokesman said global action on climate change "needs to be matched with local measures to respond to the damage already done and continue to build reef resilience and adaption".

The government grant "will allow us to advance the scale of work being done and will be guided by science," he said.

Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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