WaterNSW independent internal investigation finds inducement claims unsubstantiated

WaterNSW independent internal investigation finds inducement claims unsubstantiated

24 December 2020

Last month WaterNSW established an investigation to examine statements made by Gundungurra traditional owner, Ms Kazan Brown, concerning WaterNSW (and its contractors) at a hearing of the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the Proposal to Raise the Warragamba Dam Wall.

The statements suggested that representatives of WaterNSW and consultants who were engaged to undertake the Aboriginal cultural heritage assessment offered inducements to the traditional owners, including access to culturally significant sites and offers of jobs, in exchange for support for the project.

The investigation, carried out by an independent legal firm, interviewed relevant participants involved in the 2019 meeting where the alleged comments were made. This process has now concluded following responses by all participants including Ms Brown. Ms Brown’s cooperation by way of participation in the investigation is appreciated.

Importantly, Ms Brown clarified one aspect of the uncorrected transcript from her appearance before the Parliamentary Inquiry, which related to an allegation that she had, in effect, been bribed in exchange for her support for the project.

The investigation determined that “Although Ms Brown may have felt that she was bribed, in fact no bribe or inducement was offered to her for her support of the project.”

It also found that “To the extent Ms Brown thought the Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) were offered jobs and access, she has misconstrued (WaterNSW contractor’s) comments (which were about standard practice on government and large-scale infrastructure projects) and the ordinary next steps if the project were to proceed.”

As the investigation has found the allegations regarding bribery unsubstantiated, there are no grounds for WaterNSW to consider notification to appropriate regulators or undertake disciplinary action.

Nonetheless, WaterNSW is concerned regarding Ms Brown’s comments about feeling ‘demeaned, condescended to and disrespected’ during the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment (ACHA) process for the project.

This is regrettable and it was certainly not intended. We would like to thank Ms Brown for raising her concerns so they could not only be addressed, but also to inform improvements in how WaterNSW engages with Aboriginal communities.

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