The federal government has known for two years about plans to build a giant wind farm on the site of a World War I battlefield in France where thousands of Australians died, the company behind the proposal says, but the current minister insists he was not told.
As a backlash against the wind farm intensifies, Labor has called on the government to explain its interactions with the French government as it was revealed French energy firm Engie Green told the Australian embassy about the plans in 2015.
Six turbines are to be installed on a field in Bullecourt where fighting in April and May 1917 led to 10,000 Australian casualties. Thousands of Australians are believed to be buried at the site.
“In 2015, during the studies phase of the project and before the submission of it, Engie made contact with the Australian embassy,” spokesman Damien de Gaulejac said in response to questions asked from Sky News.
“The history of the territory and the respect of memory were taken into account from the beginning
Labor veterans’ affairs spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth said it was a “concerning” development. “This is certainly not the impression given by the minister and raises questions about how much he is across his portfolio,” she said. “The government could have raised these concerns two years ago.’’
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan, who yesterday met French ambassador Christophe Penot, said he first heard about the proposal in recent months. “I wasn’t the minister two years ago,” he said. “I would be very surprised if the project goes ahead.”
He said the ambassador was “incredibly empathetic and understanding of the sensitivities” around the project, and that Mr Penot would speak to the head of the region in which the wind farms are proposed.
A spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Ambassador at the time was not aware of the wind farm project being raised with the Australian Embassy.