Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan says he will contact his French counterpart over plans to build wind farms on a World War I battlefield where at least 10,000 Australians died.
Seven wind farm towers are proposed to be built on the site of two battles at Bullecourt that occurred in April and May 1917.
Mr Tehan on Wednesday said the project had been “on-again-off-again” for at least the past year.
The minister promised to reach out to the French government to get a better understanding of the situation before taking it any further.
The small village of Bullecourt in northern France, which is now farmland, is estimated to have the bodies of up to 20,000 soldiers from Australia, Britain and Germany beneath its soil.
It is believed between 3000 and 4000 soldiers bodies were never recovered.
“It’s like they’ve gone to a Lone Pine cemetery at Gallipoli and dug a trench across it and put a wind farm up,” former Queensland premier Campbell Brown, whose great-uncle is among those who died at Bullecourt, told Sky News on Tuesday night.
“That’s what’s going to happen here… It is an outrage.
“It’s an untouched battlefield; it’s a war grave.”
According to The Australian, citing French Newspaper La Voix Du Nord, many locals hold the same opinion, with Riencourt-les-Cagnicourt Mayor Gerard Crutel saying: “This project, I do not want it … this place is almost a graveyard.”
Mr Campbell urged Malcolm Turnbull to officially take the issue to France and ensure the development does not go ahead.
“I would like him to take it up directly with the French President,” he said.
“That’s how serious this is, that’s how important this is.”
Mr Tehan noted that the local sentiment echoed Australian concerns about the project.
“The French people, like the Australian people, understand the significance of this land and they have the utmost respect for the sacrifices made by Australian soldiers on their soil,” he told AAP in a statement.
“Australia enjoys a close working relationship with the French government when it comes to recovering the remains of Australians from French battlefields.”
Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson, a former MP ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg echoed the sentiment, calling for the wind-farm plans to be reconsidered.
However, he conceded, it is unlikely Australia would be able to stop the development.
“Bullecourt is one of the most significant sites of Australian sacrifice and the French government would do well to reconsider … In the end, it is a matter for government,” Mr Nelson was quoted by The Australian as saying.
Some 2130 people attended the ANZAC Day dawn service at the nearby Villers-Bretonneux this year to commemorate the lives lost on the French Battlefields, with 3400 taking part in 2016.
During his address, Australia’s ambassador to France Steven Brady spoke of the importance of remembering those who had served at war.
“Official remembrance is afforded the significant resources and attention of governments, but only those remembered and those who care to remember give it meaning,” he said.
In 2015, stage five of the iconic Tour de France passed through the battlefield sites of Bullecourt, Pozieres, Fromelles and Villers-Bretonneux as a tribute to the centenary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli.
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