By Georgina Mitchell
May 3, 2017 - Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has defended the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland, saying Australia has a "moral obligation" to help poorer nations keep their lights on.
The controversial Carmichael mine would be Australia's largest, with Indian company Adani expecting to export 60 million tonnes of coal per year, much of it to India.
Sparring between Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Q&A host Tony Jones were relieved by the presence of British satirist Armando Iannucci.
Environmental fears, including concerns from graziers that the mine has been granted an unlimited licence to use water, have swirled around the proposal, leading major banks including Westpac and the Commonwealth to distance themselves from it.
Speaking on the ABC's panel program Q&A on Monday night, Mr. Joyce would not rule out the government stepping in to provide direct finance to Adani to ensure the mine goes ahead.
Barnaby Joyce would not rule out the government stepping in to provide direct finance to Adani to ensure the mine goes ahead.
"I'm not going to start answering that question, but I suspect not," Mr. Joyce said. "The issue is the infrastructure that surrounds it. We're happy to look at that, and we are doing that.
"We've said we're prepared to support the rail link, and we look forward to [it]."
The government has proposed loaning the mining conglomerate $1 billion from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund to build a rail line that would transport the coal to ports.
However, the company may have ruled itself ineligible for the criteria of the loan, after declaring such an investment would not be "make or break" for the project.
Mr. Joyce said he did not want to create two classes of people - those who can afford power, and those who can't - by refusing the mine.
"I'm going to be a complete economic pragmatist. We have to make sure this economy works. We have to export dollars. One of our largest exports is coal," he said.
"We have to realize we have a moral responsibility to other people in other nations to keep their lights on. They have their right to exist in the 21st century like we do. We can't sort of lord it over people and say 'we prescribe a way of life for you that you can't afford'."
Mr. Joyce said the mine would ultimately lead to lower emissions than if people in India used local coal.
"If we decide that we don't want to use Adani - the coal from the Galilee coalfields - to help poor people in India be able to turn on their lights like we do, they're still going to get coal. They're just going to get coal that's 60 percent less efficient, from India," he said.
"So you're actually going to increase your carbon emissions."
Mr. Joyce was also quizzed on climate change. He acknowledged human activity had an impact on the phenomenon, but said it was not responsible for "every climatic catastrophe".
"Of course, if human activity is putting greenhouse gases - and it does - into the atmosphere, then of course that has an effect on the climate," he said.
"They [activists] always take the next step and say 'that cyclone was climate change, that bushfire was climate change', everything. And it's not. It's part of the natural path of what happens in the climate all the time, for which part of the effect are greenhouse gases."
Fellow panellist Brian Schmidt, the vice chancellor of Australian National University, said we must take steps over the next 30 years to lessen the impact of climate change.
"You are correct that often any little thing is ascribed to climate change," said Mr. Schmidt, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2011. "But as climate change becomes bigger and bigger, more and more things really are going to relate to that.
"People have, I think, this false belief that it's only going to be two degrees [of warming]. It's only going to be two degrees if we actually really start changing quickly. It could be five, six, seven - we don't know, it's hard to calculate when it becomes really big."