The Adani Carmichael coalmine needs $1bn of government funds for a rail line because it is “a tipping point issue” to get the mine going, Barnaby Joyce has said.
The Nationals leader has given a full-throated defence of subsidising the mine, telling Radio National that Australians should support it because they are “citizens of the world” and warning those that oppose fossil fuels “if you live with the butterflies, you will die with the butterflies”.
Joyce, who is currently acting prime minister as Malcolm Turnbull is in India, where he has met mining magnate Gautam Adani, was asked about proposals to give a $900m concessional loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility for a rail line from the Adani mine to the port.
Joyce has previously supported the loan, although environmental groups warn it does not meet the criteria for the fund.
He called it a “great idea”, claiming it would open up the Galilee basin as a coal precinct, provide electricity in India and create 3,000 direct and 10,000 indirect jobs.
“It’s a great investment in getting people out of poverty, providing electricity,” he said on Tuesday. “We believe in not only just being citizens of Australia but citizens of the world.”
Joyce claimed that those opposed the project lived in suburbs outside the area and their attitude amounted to saying “we’re happy with our life, we want you in central Queensland to stay poorer than us”.
Asked why public funds should be loaned instead of commercial funds, Joyce said that “amongst other things, it’s a tipping point issue to get this mine going”. He said the government wanted open access to the line to allow other miners to use it and turn the Galilee Basin into a “cash cow for Australia”.
“I know the greenies will go off their heads, they’ll be all ringing me up and tweeting me right now, but I can deal with that.
“We’re going to have renewables – I know that – that’s going to be a big part of the energy program going forward. But we’re also going to have baseload coal-fired power.
“We’ve got to be realists, if you’re going to live with the butterflies you’re going to die with the butterflies.”
Asked about the fact Adani has said it can build the mine without a government loan, Joyce said the government needed to be proactive in creating jobs.
The acting prime minister denied that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility had become a lender of last resort, despite the fact that 14 banks and financial institutions had refused to provide finance to Adani.
Joyce questioned why the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union and Australian Workers Union didn’t support the mine more vocally, and accused Labor and the Greens of having “fantasia ideas” about how to create jobs.
Asked about Adani’s unlimited water licence, Joyce said water could be supplied if projects including Connors river dam and Rookwood weir were completed.
When challenged about the increased emissions from coal-fired power, Joyce invoked South Australia’s blackouts, referring to the fact wind power settings had affected supply when transmission lines and an interconnector were down.
Joyce also dismissed concerns that the Adani mine could exacerbate environmental problems such as the release of coal dust into the Caley valley wetlands from the Abbot Point coal terminal during Cyclone Debbie, labelling it a “man-made wetland built for duck shooters”.
Joyce said the cause of the damage was the cyclone which had also “pulverised the reef” and occurred because “it’s the tropics”.
Joyce said that governments could mitigate environmental risks but in a “more competitive world … if you go for zero risk you may as well pack up and go home”.
He said the Adani mine should not be stopped because of “dust blowing over a man-made duck shooting pond”.