As reported in the Cairns Post newspaper, so far Rainforest Trust Australia has bought more than three million acres of rainforest spread across the nation’s famously beautiful and unique Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. It has cost them millions of Australian dollars. But now they’re being investigated by the authorities for allegedly ‘misappropriating’ money they were given as grants.
The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area sits between Townsville and Cooktown on the north-east coast of Queensland. It covers a vast area of almost nine thousand square kilometers, 450 km long and consisting largely of lush tropical rainforests. Many plant and animal species in the Wet Tropics are unique, found nowhere else in the world.
Apparently the Commonwealth grant in question was for $775,500, a sum that was handed over in 2014 to pay for weed control at a chunk of land near El Arish, at the Mission Beach cassowary corridor. It looks like the promised weed control hasn’t been done, a delay that contravenes the grant’s guidelines. Local people have a similar complaint – that the land bought by the foundation is in worse condition now than it was when they bought it. Far from there being fewer weeds, there are actually more, and there has even been some re-vegetation.
The investigation was recently confirmed by Australia’s Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, who is keen to look into a government grant awarded to the organisation, which was previously called Rainforest Trust Australia. Now the case has been sent to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, who will be considering what direction to take the investigation in next.
In the charity’s defence, Rainforest Trust Australia chairman David Butler said there wasn’t a case to answer because an ex-employee, who was responsible for the fraudulent behaviour, has already been charged by the Department of Public Prosecutions and no longer works for the organisation. Furthermore, because the matter is still being dealt with by the court, it’s sub judicae and the charity can’t comment further. He also said that since the enquiry started they’ve been busy putting in place better processes and procedures as regards governance and financial management, so this kind of thing can’t happen again.