Inquiry chairperson Rachel Pepper addresses last night’s forum.
COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
Last night was the town’s last opportunity to have a say, face to face, to the fracking inquiry, and I went to the Convention Centre at 5pm to hear what the locals had to say.
Two hours and 15 minutes later the inquiry head, Rachel Pepper, and members of the panel were still addressing the crowd, barely more numerous than the panel and the inquiry staff in the cavernous room.
Justice Pepper had made it clear that the community members would get their say at the end of the meeting.
What she also made clear, right at the start of this “community forum”, that no-one – including media – was permitted to film or audio record the meeting.
She said she was making that ruling so that people were more inclined to speak freely, not afraid that, for example, their employers would put them under pressure for their views on fracking (an astonishing assumption in itself in our supposed democratic society).
How that would work was not clear as speakers could be identified by still photographs, and from news reports relying on notes taken by journalists.
For the benefit of anyone contemplating planting a mobile phone in record mode, Judge Pepper even invoked the “optical surveillance act,” possibly referring to the NT Surveillance Devices Act 2007 which provides for penalties of imprisonment up to two years.
I didn’t stay. I don’t take instructions from anyone about how to cover meetings that are supposedly public. I have covered thousands of them, and this is how they work: Speakers get the microphone, they make their point, everyone in the room can hear them, as well as the answers given.
I usually audio record the process as the most accurate form of note-taking, sometimes shooting a video with audio to illustrate the story with an embedded clip – as we did with one of the inquiry’s earlier public meeting in Alice Springs.
Locals at the meeting I spoke to this morning say this isn’t how it happened last night.
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