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Cairns Aquarium cleared of wrongdoing over use of coronavirus funds

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Cairns Aquarium’s chief executive says he has received notice that the Crime and Corruption Commission will take no action over allegations the attraction misused COVID-19 recovery funds.

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The Queensland Government referred the tourist attraction to the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) last month.

Aquarium chief executive Daniel Leipnik said he received an open letter from the Department of State Development overnight stating the CCC had assessed the matter on the information available and determined no action be taken.

“We’re very pleased that this outcome has come about and so quickly, and that we have been cleared of the information that was referred to the CCC,” he said.

“We have always felt that we spent both our funds and grant funds appropriately, and it’s really good to know that an independent body that has investigated this has determined that no further action needs to be taken.”

When the Government referred the Cairns Aquarium to the CCC it also withdrew $2.5 million in Industry Support Package (ISP) funding promised to the attraction in June.

Leipnik said he now hoped to resume discussions with the Government about funding arrangements.

“We’re very disappointed that allegations were presented to the CCC, that the grant was terminated without any consultancy of us, that the state took issue but didn’t even talk to us,” he said.

“So this is a first step in that vindication, but really we’re trying to get things back on track now with the State Government and get this grant reinstated.”

Local federal MP Warren Entsch labelled the aquarium’s referral as a frivolous waste of time and calls for the CCC to focus its attention on the accusers.

“At the time [the Government] made these allegations, they were already two months overdue on their second ISP payment,” Entsch said.

“They didn’t say they were going to terminate the contract until November, but the second payment which fell due in September had still not been paid.”

Enstch said he would ask the CCC to investigate any potential contract breaches by the Government and who leaked information about the referral to the media.

“I want them to find out if there’s any justification for [the Government] to cancel the contract,” he said.

“But I also want to know how the information went straight to the media from the Minister’s or the department’s office, and who was responsible for doing all they could to destroy a perfectly good business that was already struggling under COVID-19.”

The CCC and the Minster for State Development have been contacted for comment.

– ABC / Mark Rigby

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