Fracking in the NT: Indigenous community 'pushed' to consider benefits because industry 'not going away'

Fracking in the NT: Indigenous community 'pushed' to consider benefits because industry 'not going away'

Fracking in the NT: Indigenous community 'pushed' to consider benefits because industry 'not going away'

Updated 7 October 2017, 10:30 AEDT

Consultants working for the Northern Territory's independent fracking inquiry are accused of suggesting Indigenous communities exploit the opportunity and ask for benefits, because a gas-extraction industry is inevitable.

Consultants working for the Northern Territory's independent fracking inquiry have been accused of suggesting Indigenous communities exploit the opportunity and ask for benefits, because a gas-extraction industry is inevitable.

The consultants surveyed remote communities in August as part of a social impact report that was commissioned by the inquiry, which will make recommendations on whether or not to lift the ban on fracking in December.

One of the remote communities was Elliot, which is 700 kilometres south of Darwin.

Residents there recorded a consultation session in which they were repeatedly asked to consider asking for new houses, a cattle station, cultural centre and supermarket.

Elliot resident Eleanor Dixon believes the social impact study has been compromised because of the consultation by Darwin company Cross Cultural Consultants.

"I thought it was really disgusting. The consultant was really, really pushing. He was suggesting a lot of ways for us to use the benefit," she said.

In the consultation recording provided to the ABC, senior consultant Philip Elsegood told residents to prepare for fracking.

"The problem is that if this Government doesn't approve it, somewhere down the line, two governments, three governments will, they're not going to go away," he said.

When residents told him they were opposed to fracking, he told them he'd heard the same message in other Indigenous communities.

But then Mr Elsegood repeatedly suggested they should ask for benefits if fracking goes ahead.

"I mean, if you mob lose the battle and they're going to do it anyway, how do you get benefit from it? What is it that you would see as benefit? So in Elliot they said we need housing, but nobody wants to pay rent," he told the residents.

"Start to think, how do we benefit? How do we build culture? Do we get a cultural centre built at Elliot?"

'I don't want to take money to the grave'

Ms Dixon told Mr Elsegood her community did not want to take benefits from a fracking industry.

"I don't want to take money to the grave. Because my body and my spirit has come out of this ground, and I've got to go back into it just the same way I came out of it," she is heard to say in the recording.

"I don't need to go back into the ground with having anything to do with money."

Her father Raymond Dixon added: "Put it this way, if they damage the water in the ground, no-one can replace that."

But Mr Elsegood continued to suggest other benefits the community could receive.

"Living here, one of the things I can't understand is, there's no supermarket here," he said. "Everybody complains that their kids leave Elliot because there's no work.

"Like the Minyerri mob. The Government bought Hodson Downs [cattle station] for them. You know, it's not inconceivable, it might be possible for them to say: look we'll set up a [cattle] station somewhere here."

During 36 minutes of consultation, residents got to speak for just nine minutes.

Mr Dixon told the consultant: "Every tree, every rock, every river, water, that you damage, you damage the blackfella life."

His daughter added: "The land can't speak for itself. And that's what we have to do. We can't just say benefit is important."

Residents' views will be accurately included in report: consultant

Mr Elsegood told residents he'd listened, saying: "Strong message, I got it, and it will go in our stuff."

In response to questions about the quality of the consultation, Mr Elsegood told the ABC it was unfair of residents to record him.

He said residents' views would be accurately included in his report, and he made strong efforts to consult as many people as possible concerned about fracking.

Ms Dixon has complained to the inquiry panel.

"He doesn't have the right to tell us what to do on our land, and basically he was saying stuff like that," she said.

The fracking inquiry chair, Justice Rachel Pepper, said in a statement that after being provided with the recording by the ABC she was "profoundly shocked and concerned by the opinions expressed".

"The opinions and comments expressed … in no way reflect the views of the inquiry. The inquiry rejects them in their entirety."

Justice Pepper said the inquiry was taking the matter very seriously and was investigating further.

Cross Cultural Consultants were contracted by another consultancy company, Coffey, which will be the lead author on the social impact study.

Coffey has provided a statement to the ABC saying "the remote community consultations are an important input to the team, but are only one part of the information gathering that will inform the social impact assessment report."

It added: "Coffey maintains its impartiality on this matter and does not support any statements made by Cross Cultural Consultants, which may conflict with the required level of impartiality and independence. We are currently investigating the matter with CCC."

Ms Dixon hopes her community's views are reflected in the inquiry's final report.

"It's just that we want to send a very strong message to the Northern Territory Government that whatever happens needs to be for the people, not for the money," she said.