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Government's Pledge To Save Great Barrier Reef Is "Old Money" That "Won't Do A Thing"

"There isn't any new money in today's announcement."

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The Coalition government has tried twice to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation but on Monday prime minister Malcolm Turnbull made a billion dollar announcement to use the body to help save the Great Barrier Reef.

Jamie Mckinnell / AAPIMAGE

Turnbull pledged $1 billion over 10 years to provide concessional loans for "clean energy" projects to improve water quality by reducing run-off of pollutants and fertiliser from farms and limiting "ocean outfalls" from sewage treatment plants.

The fund will help protect the reef from coral bleaching and other effects of climate change. In April, scientists at the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce confirmed 93% of the reef had been affected by coral bleaching, during which coral expels algae and turns white due to warmer water temperatures.

But former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and "godfather of coral", Charlie Veron, told BuzzFeed News the funding wouldn't make "a tat of difference whatsoever" in addressing coral bleaching.

Charlie Veron / Via Facebook: Dr

Veron, who told BuzzFeed News this week that environment minister Greg Hunt was "completely ignorant" of the dangers faced by the reef, said bleaching took place in the northern Great Barrier Reef where there was no water quality issue.

The announcement was therefore "pure political expediency" by the Turnbull government, the marine scientist said, but he conceded it was "good of the government" to allocate money to fight the crown-of-thorn starfish, which is an issue in the central part of the reef.

There is only "one thing" that matters when it comes to coral bleaching, Veron said: coal.

Sam Panthaky / AFP / Getty Images

"Both major parties okayed the Adani mine, which is going to be the world's biggest coal mine if it comes off and coal has the worst impact on the atmosphere and climate change, which causes the bleaching."

Australian Marine Conservation Society's campaign director for the reef, Imogen Zethoven, also said the government's commitment was "not enough".

Zethoven said the government needed to listen to water quality scientists, commit billions more to protecting the reef, and cap farm pollution flowing into the reef's waters.

"We need billions of dollars going into the Great Barrier Reef catchment every year not millions," she said.

Ho New / Reuters

The money was "going to be spent on renewable energy projects anyway", she said.

"There is not any new money in today's announcement."

It would not "fix the reef" or achieve the water quality targets endorsed by the Coalition, Zethoven said.

Peter Parks / AFP / Getty Images

"This is $100 million per annum and we know water quality experts want $10 billion over 10 years."

Last month opposition leader Bill Shorten pledged a $500 million reef fund, including $377 million in new funding, she said.

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Labor's plan included $50 million for the CSIRO, as well as funding for improving water quality and reducing sediment run off.

Zethoven said it was no coincidence that the Great Barrier Reef runs alongside a number of Liberal National Party seats at risk this election.

William West / AFP / Getty Images

She said the government should "focus on the reef not on winning marginal electorates" such as Leichhardt, Herbert, Dawson, Capricornia and Flynn, as well as independent Bob Katter's seat of Kennedy.

It isn't the first time the government has repackaged existing funding for the UNESCO world heritage site.

In last month's federal budget the government pledged $171 million to the Great Barrier Reef, which it later confirmed was re-directed funding from other environmental initiatives.

$70 million was "redirected" from the Green Army, which forms part of the government's direct action plan to tackle climate change.

The other $101 million was pinched from the government's National Landcare Programme.

Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Gina Rushton at

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