The NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the proposal to raise the Warragamba Dam Wall has heard accusations of bribery of Traditional Owners.
On Friday Gundungurra Traditional Owner, Kazan Brown, told the inquiry she felt she was bribed with access to traditional land in exchange for her approval of the project by WaterNSW and Niche, the consultancy company on the project.
“I was angry, we shouldn’t have to choose between having access to our sites and destroying them,” Brown said.
“They told us that if the project went ahead, that that would give us more access to land that Aboriginal people are currently locked out of.
“It was very strongly implied that if we supported it, we would get access.”
Inquiry Chair MP Justin Field asked Brown if she felt as though she was being bribed, to which Brown responded, “Yes, yes I did.”
The alleged bribe was proposed during a meeting with WaterNSW and Niche.
“We were just talking, and the subject came up about access, and I felt like it was a bribe … I’m always the one saying we can’t get enough access. It was mentioned that if it went ahead, we would probably be given more access,” Brown told NIT.
Brown felt as though consultations were not culturally safe nor did they take her concerns into account.
“They come in and they tell us what they are going to do, there’s no, ‘Are you okay with this? Is there a problem?’”
“It’s just we are going to do this … they talk to us like we’re Kindergarten kids.”
A WaterNSW spokesperson told NIT these allegations had prompted an internal investigation.
“In response to these allegations, WaterNSW will be conducting an internal investigation. No further comment will be made while the investigation is underway,” the spokesperson said.
Niche shared WaterNSW’s concerns with the allegations.
“Niche categorically denies the allegation that inducements were offered to Registered Aboriginal Parties, Traditional Owners or any other interested parties or individuals to garner support for the project,” said the organisation.
NIT contacted Minister Stuart Ayres for comment, however, did not receive a response.
Minister Ayres did, however, speak on 2GB Radio on Friday regarding the proposal.
The Minister outlined it would take up to four years for the wall to be raised to the desired 14 metres. He stated that only 0.04 per cent of the heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park would be flooded, and it would only be “temporary”.
Whilst it may be temporary, Brown said the damage to cultural sites will be long-lasting.
“Temporary could be anything from a couple of days to six weeks. It doesn’t matter how temporary it is, once charcoal drawings and ochre is wet, it’s gone.”
“It doesn’t matter if it floods for a day or if it floods for six months, it is damaged and gone.”
Minister Ayres also described the proposal to 2GB Radio as a “trade-off”.
“This has to be a trade-off, so it’s about us saying what is the smallest environmental impact that we are prepared to tolerate in order to protect those communities,” he said.
“We are not shying away from the fact there will be an environmental impact, we have been upfront about that right from the beginning.
“We are not bowing to, what is, for all intensive purposes, environmental terrorism, telling people they can’t do things to protect their life and their property.”
Brown said the Minister’s position doesn’t accurately acknowledge their fight.
“He keeps carrying on that we’re completely against flood mitigation and we’re not. We’re not against flood mitigation, we’re just against this project in particular,” she said.
“There are alternatives to raising the dam wall and that is what they should be looking at. It is still going to flood. I really think he is giving people a false sense of security that this project is going to suddenly mean they are never going to flood again.
“From what we understand there isn’t going to be any evacuation routes invested in downstream.”
Brown hopes the Parliamentary Inquiry will see “that it is not right.”
“The amount of evidence that was given on the Friday proves how incompetent the assessment is. It’s not just the Aboriginal Heritage assessment either, it’s all of the assessments,” she said.
“If you’re going to destroy something, you need to know what you’re destroying. Not just a little bit of it, you need to know about all of it.
“We would really hope that they would start looking at the alternatives and adapt one of them.”
By Rachael Knowles