Network Ten’s The Project last week reported that at the time of the deal, Eastern Australia Agriculture was owned by a parent company, Eastern Australia Irrigation, which is based in the Cayman Islands – a known tax haven.
Mr Joyce said he relied on advice from his department when signing off on the deal, and did not question the price paid or who would benefit.
“If you do not rely on the competent advice from the department, who on Earth are you going to rely on” he said, describing Labor’s criticism as “a load of horse crap”.
Asked whether he knew a company in the Cayman Islands would benefit from his decision, Mr Joyce said such questions were “not my job” and he trusted the department to “do the right thing”.
“I do not negotiate the price, I do not negotiate the vendor … These were the people who were offering water to us to buy,” he said.
“You ask whether they’ve got water to sell, you are not asking what clothes they wear you don’t ask who they are married to.”
Mr Taylor co-founded the Eastern Australia Agriculture parent company and served as a director until he entered Parliament in 2013. Mr Taylor says he did not benefit from the buyback, never had a financial interest in the companies and is no longer associated with the companies.
Mr Joyce said on Monday he had “zero knowledge” of Mr Taylor’s history with the company.
Mr Joyce said the former Labor government has also bought water off EAA. However Labor says its agreements were the result of an open tender, while the deals under the Coalition were negotiated privately.
In November 2015, Queensland Labor’s Minister for State Development, Natural Resources and Mines, Anthony Lynham, urged the Morrison government to buy water entitlements from Eastern Australia Agriculture.
Mr Joyce said unless the Queensland government were “morons” or “asleep”, their proposal suggested to him that the deal was sound.
Federal Labor on Monday questioned why the government bought the water from a foreign-based multinational rather than local farmers. It said the Coaliton had questions to answer over the deal, which did not go out to tender.
A Labor spokesman said the federal government negotiated with the company and signed off on the price paid for the water, and the deal was “their responsibility”.
Critics say the government paid too much for the water and it will not produce environmental gains.
The department issued a statement on Good Friday defending the buyback, including the due diligence it carried out.
The Morrison government on Monday rejected suggestions of wrongdoing. It said the Queensland Labor government proposed the purchase, it had clear environmental benefits and the department followed due process. The government also says documents relating to the purchase have previously been released to the Senate.
However Labor’s environment spokesman Tony Burke on Monday said the documents were heavily redacted and should be released in full.
In a letter to secretary Daryl Quinlivan, Mr Burke wrote that “given that the department has chosen to insert itself into the public debate in this way, it is not consistent [with] the operation of the public service to provide reference to those documents to make a case in order to defend the minister without then also making those documents public”. The department declined to comment on the request.
Federal Labor has not ruled out ordering a royal commission into the basin plan if it wins office.
Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.