The federal government has confirmed the $171 million pledged to the Great Barrier Reef in Tuesday night's Budget is actually re-directed funding from other environmental initiatives.
On Budget night, environment minister Greg Hunt boasted of the $171 million boost to the reef, saying the government is "committed to preserving our natural environment for future generations."
Under questioning from Greens senator Larissa Waters in senate estimates on Thursday, department of environment bureaucrats confirmed the funding is not actually new money for the environment.
Tuesday's Budget contained $70 million in funding for the reef trust as part of the government's "Reef 2050" plan, which is designed to preserve the reef in future decades. That $70 million comes from the Green Army, which forms part of the government's direct action plan to tackle climate change.
The other $101 million is taken from the government's National Landcare Programme (NLP) and will now also be directed towards the reef.
Liberal senator Simon Birmingham said the funding was new "for the reef" as it had not yet been allocated within the environment portfolio.
"The natural heritage trust [which oversees the NLP] allocations are decisions that governments make on an annual basis," he said. "Clearly at present we believe that working to address the issues of coral bleaching on the reef is a priority. This is new money for the reef. This is not money that was allocated for any other specific program."
Senator Waters said the government is prioritising fossil fuels over the future of the reef.
"In a Budget that keeps more than $20 billion in subsidies to fossil fuels and gives $100 milion in new money to mining exploration, it's an indictment on the government that there is no new money for the reef that doesn't come at the expense of other environment programs," she said.
"The environment portfolio has suffered cut after cut under the Abbott/Turnbull government, including cuts in this year's Budget to the Reef Marine Park Authority."
"Instead of frittering away billions on tax cuts to big business and above income earners, a better Budget would have invested in our reef without cutting environment funding."
The Great Barrier Reef is currently in the midst of an unprecedented coral bleaching event, largely due to rising sea temperatures.
Last month, scientists at the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, a federal government–funded initiative devoted to researching the reef, confirmed that 93% of it had been affected by coral bleaching.
"We've never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before," said Professor Terry Hughes, convenor of the NCBT said.
Coral bleaching occurs when abnormal water conditions expel tiny photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae, turning the coral white and effectively killing it.
Hughes said there's "no doubt" the massive bleaching event is due to climate change.
"It's not a personal opinion that the Great Barrier Reef has changed and is declining," he told BuzzFeed News at the time. "There's real data on that. It's a fact, not an opinion. We know that the amount of coral on the Great Barrier Reef is about half of what it was 30 years ago."
"It's personally frustrating to me as a scientist that the government has ignored our predictions that this would happen. It has actually come earlier than we thought. We thought we had more time."