Last Friday the RwB Coordinator Eugene Simonov was awake till 5 a.m. in Moscow taking part in dam investigation hearings half a world apart . Together with Mr.Sai Khur Hseng, the Coordinator of Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization in Myanmar, he was standing witness to present evidence submitted by 20 environmental and indigenous NGOs around the world regarding the destructive impacts resulting from work of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC). Now SMEC is completing a project for raising Warragamba Dam in Western Sydney.
An Aboriginal traditional land owner has told an inquiry she was offered employment by government bureaucrats if she supported the controversial raising of the Warragamba dam wall.
Gundungurra traditional owner Kazan Brown last week told a parliamentary inquiry that in a July 2019 meeting with a WaterNSW employee and a private stakeholder, it was suggested jobs and traditional land access would be on offer if she supported the project.
Private property upstream of the Lake Burragorang resevoir at High Range which would be flooded if the Warragamba Dam wall is raised. Wolter Peeters
“[They said] to us that if the project was to proceed they would give our people access to areas of the catchment that we are currently locked out of,” Ms Brown told the Inquiry into the Proposal to Raise the Warragamba Dam Wall on Friday.
“They even went on to say at this meeting we would be given employment if we were to agree with the project proceeding.”
The government plans to raise the wall by at least 14 metres, but opponents say it could irreparably damage up to 1300 hectares of world heritage listed Blue Mountains bushland and Aboriginal cultural sites in the event of a major flood.
Independent MP and committee member Justin Field said Ms Brown’s evidence was deeply concerning.
“The evidence that access to traditional lands or jobs was held out to encourage support for the project warrants an immediate investigation by WaterNSW and the minister responsible,” he said.
A spokesman for Water NSW said the agency categorically denied that inducements were offered to registered Aboriginal parties to garner support for the project.
“Should the raising of Warragamba Dam proceed, a Cultural Heritage Management Plan will be developed in consultation with the Aboriginal community.”
He said Water NSW had financially reimbursed Aboriginal parties for the Environmental Impact Statement in line with standard procedure to compensate for loss of wages during participation.
“The full EIS will be publicly exhibited and submissions encouraged from all interested parties,” he said.
The World Heritage Committee in July last year raised concerns with the plan at a UNESCO meeting in Azerbaijan, noting that raising the wall would likely increase the extent and frequency of protected bushland being inundated.
Witnesses also gave evidence to the inquiry via video link on Friday, making allegations about conduct of a company linked to consultants chosen by the NSW government.
Eugene Simonov from Rivers without Boundaries said the engineering firm had links to several “very questionable” water infrastructure projects since the mid-2000s, in Myanmar and Mongolia.
In 2017 the World Bank debarred SMEC International, based in Melbourne, and four subsidiaries in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka after an investigation into misconduct in south Asia.
SMEC Engineering, which the inquiry heard was connected to SMEC International, was engaged by the NSW government to undertake an environmental and cultural assessment for the project.
Labor Opposition spokesman for climate change and energy Adam Searle said the committee on Friday heard “very disturbing reports about how SMEC conducted itself with Indigenous people” in other countries.
“The evidence particularly from Indigenous people was that the quality of the report was very poor … and that the survey did not properly have regard to social and cultural significance of place and landscape, focusing instead on European archaeological notions,” he said.
Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres told 2GB radio on Friday the project was needed to prevent floods or allow greater time to evacuate residents. He said inundation of 0.4 per cent of the World Heritage-listed area would be temporary.
“It would only be whilst we’re holding that water behind the dam wall so it wasn’t in people’s living rooms, or flowing through streets and towns.
“We’re not giving up any more time; we’re not bowing to what is, for all intents and purposes, environmental terrorism.”
The inquiry continues to investigate claims about flood mitigation.
Lucy Cormack.The Sydney Morning Herald.