An environmental charity, controversially handed $444m of taxpayer money to protect the reef, is being sued by Gail Mabo.
An environmental charity, controversially handed $444m of taxpayer money to protect the reef, is being sued by Gail Mabo.

$1m stoush as Gail Mabo sues Barrier Reef charity

The environmental charity, controversially handed $444m of taxpayer money to protect the reef, has been sued by the daughter of land rights campaigner Eddie Mabo over a failed $1m contract for event coordination.

Gail Mabo and colleague Joanne Margaret Keune, who ran business Speak Eze, have sued the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) in the District Court in Townsville alleging that they planned for a three-day Indigenous event between July and September last year but that two weeks after they sent their invoice for the first payment tranche the GBRF repudiated the contract.

Ms Mabo and Ms Keune have asked the District Court for an order that the GBRF comply with the terms of the $1m contract as Ms Mabo and Ms Keune are "ready willing and able" to perform their obligations to coordinate a traditional owner forum over the course of a year.

They are also seeking damages of $200,000 for breach of contract, or alternatively damages as assessed by the court.

The claim was filed in court on February 2.

The claim alleges the pair were awarded the contract in July but that GBRF staffers Theresa Fyffe and Traceylee Forrester repudiated the contract on September 24 when they told Ms Mabo and Ms Keune via video-conference: "we will be cancelling the project".

Ms Keune alleges she later phoned GBRF chief executive Anna Marsden who told her: "This project is the centrepiece of our traditional owner group delivery and now we will be far too busy next year due to projects that were cancelled and now moved to next year".

Great Barrier Reef Foundation chief executive Anna Marsden at Hamilton Island. Picture: Lachie Millard
Great Barrier Reef Foundation chief executive Anna Marsden at Hamilton Island. Picture: Lachie Millard

Ms Mabo claims that due to the cancellation, she suffered losses of $120,000 when she forfeited other work including $50,000 from art commissions, $35,000 from Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill mining project in Western Australia to do community development and $35,000 for an artistic residency commission with the McLennan Foundation from Melbourne.

The $1m contract was due to be paid out with $200,000 every three months, then $400,000 in the 2021-2022 financial year, the claim states.

The GBRF, which is chaired by former Commonwealth Bank chairm John Schubert, has not filed a defence to the claims and was unaware of the suit when contacted by The Courier-Mail.

In a written statement to The Courier-Mail, made outside of court, GBRF traditional owner advisory group chair Larissa Hale said the reef-wide land and sea country forum set for September this year was postponed due to COVID-19.

"We followed due process including notifying our preferred suppliers," Ms Hale told The Courier-Mail in the written response.

The solicitor acting for Ms Mabo and Ms Keune did not respond to requests for comment.

At June last year the GBRF had $142 million in cash and cash equivalents on its balance sheet, and in the 2019-2020 financial year it reported revenues of $36m, made up almost entirely of taxpayer's money for research.

Originally published as $1m stoush: Mabo's daughter sues Barrier Reef charity


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