By ERWIN CHLANDA
The fracking inquiry will now not be presenting its final report in December but in March next year, after community consultation in the Beetaloo Basin, near Elliott, was of a standard that caused the panel “utmost dismay and concern at the unacceptable conduct” by the consultants carrying out that work.
The multi million dollar inquiry, which is acting as a consultant to the NT Government, engaged consultants, Coffey Services Australia Pty Ltd, which in turn engaged “Cross Cultural Consultants (CCC) to assist it with its on-ground community consultation activities”.
The drama began with an interview aired on the ABC on October 7. On that day the inquiry, according to a statement it made, listened to the entire 36 minutes of audio obtained by the ABC.
Says inquiry head Rachel Pepper: “I am shocked by the opinions and comments expressed by the person in the recording, who appears to be leading the community consultation in his capacity as a representative of CCC.
“The opinions and comments expressed by that person in no way reflect the views of the Inquiry. [It] rejects them in their entirety. At no time was the Inquiry aware that comments of this nature would be made by CCC.”
Justice Pepper says the inquiry is working with Coffey to urgently address these issues.
In a media release yesterday the inquiry said: “After investigation and discussions with Coffey, the Inquiry determined, and Coffey has agreed, that as a result of the issues surrounding the previous on-ground community consultation undertaken by CCC, that this portion of the social impact assessment will need to be re-done by a new and independent organisation.
“The Inquiry can now confirm Indigenous Agreement Solutions (IAS) has been appointed by Coffey to undertake further engagement in communities within the Beetaloo Sub-basin and surrounding areas.
“The appointment of IAS has, however, resulted in a longer than anticipated delay in the completion by Coffey of its work, which has had a consequential delay in the completion of the work of the Inquiry.
“While the draft Final Report will be published by mid-December, the Final Report cannot now be published until March 2018.”
Judge Pepper says the principal of IAS, Kim Wilson, is a former judge and National Native Title Tribunal president.
“IAS’s experience includes implementing native title agreements, cultural heritage management plans, and environmental and land use agreements. Mr Russell Dunn, a senior elder of Wiradjuri in central NSW, and respected Indigenous community member Mr Barry Hunter, will lead the engagement within the communities.”
The Beetaloo Basin is the area in the NT where fracking, if approved by the government, is expected to be be most intense.
UPDATE Nov 18:
Lauren Mellor, from the Frack Free Alliance, says the social impact assessment consultations have to be re-done in all the Beetaloo region communities including Katherine, Mataranka, Minyerri, Ngukurr, Borroloola, Elliott, Daly Waters and Tennant Creek.
By ERWIN CHLANDA