Community Update #25 - 7 November 2017

On 28 June 2017 the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory (Inquiry) engaged Coffey Services Australia Pty Ltd (Coffey) to conduct a social impact assessment on its behalf. As part of that tender, Coffey engaged Cross Cultural Consultants (CCC) to assist it with its on-ground community consultation activities.

In Community Update #22 the Inquiry expressed its upmost dismay and concern at the unacceptable conduct of CCC in carrying out that work.

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. This is to ensure the completion and public release of the work by Coffey and, most importantly, to allow adequate time for the public, industry and the Government to read and digest the draft Final Report and Coffey’s social impact assessment, prior to the final round of consultations commencing at the conclusion of school holidays at the end of January 2018.

Inquiry Chair, the Hon Justice Rachel Pepper, said that the subsequent revision of the social impact assessment consultation process meant that the Inquiry had no option but to adjust its timeframe for completion of the draft Final Report and the Final Report.

“The Inquiry had anticipated a November release of the draft Final report, but regretfully this is not possible in light of the measures required to be undertaken to ensure that the social impact assessment work is satisfactorily completed by Coffey,” Justice Pepper said.

“Coffey has indicated the IAS consultation will be completed in December, which means that Coffey will be in a position to complete its report for the Inquiry by early to mid-January 2018.

“While Coffey’s social impact assessment cannot, as desired, be completed in time for its inclusion in the Inquiry’s draft Final Report, its work will be completed and released to the public prior to the final round of consultations in January 2018. Consistent with the Inquiry’s practice so far, as soon as the Inquiry receives Coffey’s completed report, it will be published on the Inquiry’s website.

“In order to release the draft Final report this year, notwithstanding the absence of Coffey’s social impact statement, the Inquiry will publish its draft Final Report by mid-December, with the completed Coffey report being released early to mid-January 2018.

“In order to accommodate the necessary consultation timeframes for the draft Final Report and the Coffey report, the final round of public hearings and community consultations will be conducted by the Inquiry in late January 2018, after school holidays. This has meant that the completion date for the Final Report has had to be revised to March 2018.

“Consultation by the Inquiry in late December or very early January would not be appropriate. Not only would the Coffey social impact assessment not be released, this would not give people sufficient time to read and understand what will be a lengthy and complex draft Final Report, especially given the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

“As the final round of consultations will be the last opportunity for all stakeholders, especially the public, to have their say on the content of the draft Final Report and the delayed Coffey report, it is important that everyone is given enough time to read those documents prior to those consultations commencing.”

Notwithstanding the delay, Justice Pepper acknowledged the considerable efforts of Coffey in addressing the inappropriate manner of the consultations previously conducted by CCC and she welcomed the appointment of IAS. She also went on to emphasise the importance of the on-ground consultation to the work of the Inquiry.

“The Inquiry has implemented a comprehensive program of community engagement throughout its work. It is particularly important to provide an opportunity for those communities in and around the Beetaloo Sub-basin area to be heard on the social and cultural impacts that any potential development of onshore shale gas resources may have on those communities," Justice Pepper said.

“I have been advised by Coffey that IAS is an experienced consulting firm and come highly regarded as a result of its work with Indigenous communities in other jurisdictions.”

The Principal of IAS, Mr 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.

“Coffey has informed the Inquiry that it will also allocate three of its personnel to assist and provide oversight to IAS during the on-ground consultations,” Justice Pepper said.

Justice Pepper said that Coffey and IAS will attend all of the communities CCC had previously consulted directly with, namely, Katherine, Mataranka, Daly Waters, Elliott, Newcastle Waters, Tennant Creek, Borroloola, Robinson River, Ngukurr and Minyerri.

IAS is planning to visit these communities later this month to begin preparatory meetings ahead of community consultation beginning in December for the purposes of the social impact assessment.

Justice Pepper said that while she was disappointed that the Inquiry would not complete its work by the end of 2017 as earlier indicated, and while she was very aware that the Government was waiting for the Inquiry to conclude in order to determine whether or not to lift the moratorium, the delay was unavoidable if adequate time is to be afforded to Territorians to properly engage in the last round of consultations prior to the release of the Inquiry’s Final Report.

Her Honour went on to note that to date the Inquiry had undertaken a considerable workload since it commenced its work in late January 2017, including:

  • releasing its Background and Issues Paper on 20 February 2017
  • engaging in initial stakeholder briefings from 20- 24 February 2017
  • holding 105 live-streamed public hearings across Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs
  • conducting 29 separate community forums in urban, rural and remote locations
  • releasing its Interim Report on 14 July 2017
  • visiting SA, ACT and Queensland to gather evidence and speak to various State and Commonwealth departments and stakeholders
  • consulting with Land Councils and other Aboriginal organisations
  • visiting several pastoral leases in the NT
  • assessing over 500 written submissions and ‘Have Your Say’ forms
  • participating in various media engagements
  • issuing 25 Community Updates.