Barnaby Joyce has been called “irresponsible” by one of ‘s most senior conservationists after the Deputy Prime Minister dismissed wetlands adjoining Adani’s Abbot Point coal port as little more than a “duck-shooting pond”.
The brawl over Adani’s threats to the onshore environment and the Great Barrier Reef escalated as Liberal backbencher Sarah Henderson broke ranks to question a potential $1 billion government loan to develop rail infrastructure for the Indian conglomerate’s proposed Carmichael mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.
n Conservation Council president Geoff Cousins said Mr Joyce had “failed to check his facts” on the Caley Valley wetlands, a 5000-hectare bird habitat that environmentalists say was damaged by coal dust contamination from the Adani terminal during cyclone Debbie.
Mr Joyce this week played down the wetlands’ ecological value, describing it as a “swamp” built for duck shooters.
Minister for Resources and Northern Matt Canavan repeated the claim on Wednesday, saying the area was “a man-made swamp that was created for duck shooting in the 1950s”.
The first member of the government to make the claim appears to have been Dawson MP George Christensen, who was quoted in 2015 as saying “the area the extreme greens pretend to care about was actually a dry flat plain until two gun clubs got together in the 1950s to divert a watercourse and create a pond where they could shoot ducks”.
According to the federal government’s Directory of Important Wetlands in , Caley Valley is a diverse and permanent wetland “exceptionally important for waterbirds” and eligible for international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
It estimates that just 0.2 per cent of the wetlands have been modified by humans.
The directory, issued by the Department of Environment and Energy, places the hydrological history of the area as “post-ice age” when sediments from the Euri Creek and the Don River met the “recently inundated (by a post-ice age sea level rise) coastline”.
A 2010 baseline report to the Queensland government acknowledged that the wetlands were modified in the 1950s to increase fresh water to “promote recreational waterfowl hunting”, but that was banned in 2005.
Mr Cousins said the bund walls made by shooters were never effective and did not significantly alter the wetlands.
“Barnaby Joyce showed a complete lack of effort to check the facts,” he said.
“He’s acting irresponsibly and damaging the credibility of the government. I don’t think this person is a fit person to be a minister of the crown.”
A spokesman for Mr Joyce said nothing in Mr Cousins’ comments changed the wetlands’ history as a duck-shooting pond. “You can’t pretend a historical fact doesn’t exist simply because you don’t like the fact,” he said.
Despite Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s pledge that the loan decision process would be done “scrupulously independently”, Mr Joyce and Mr Canavan have been enthusiastic about the prospect of Adani’s Carmichael mine receiving the $1 billion concessional loan from the government.
Fairfax Media revealed on Wednesday that comments by Adani saying the finance was not “critical” to the project could rule it out of receiving the loan via the $5 billion Northern Infrastructure Fund (NAIF).
Ms Henderson, who holds the marginal Victorian seat of Corangamite, has become the second Liberal MP to raise concern about Adani receiving a public loan, after Queenslander Bert van Manen said the rail line should not be in the hands of one company.
Following a meeting with representative from GetUp, Ms Henderson wrote to the activist group outlining her concerns and saying she had contacted Mr Canavan over them.
“I too share your concerns on commercial grounds,” she wrote.
“I am advised that the project has now been significantly scaled back and involves just an open-cut mine, and no underground collieries … Due to the scale back, total investment has been reduced significantly as have the number of new jobs forecast.
“I note the NAIF’s Investment Mandate Direction 2016, which provides a number of important investment safeguards. Notwithstanding, I am concerned about the commercial risk involved in the government providing such a significant loan to Adani under these circumstances.”
GetUp director Sam Regester claimed people were “outraged” at the prospect of the loan to Adani.
“Queensland needs a lot of money for reconstruction from cyclone Debbie,” he said. “But this government would prefer to pay for infrastructure that only benefits foreign coal companies.”
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