A locally-based NSW Nationals MLC was recently pressured over his lack of consultation with Indigenous custodians regarding the contentious Dunoon Dam proposal.
According to the February 24 Hansard transcript of NSW Parliament, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Franklin, was asked by Greens MP, Cate Faehrmann, if he had attempted to meet with the Widjabul Wia-bal people around their concerns about the impending destruction of 25 sacred sites, ‘should the Dunoon Dam go ahead’.
He replied in part, ‘The short answer is that I have not met with them yet. I do not think they have reached out to ask for a visit. I may be wrong, but I do not think that is the case. Of course, I would be happy to meet with them. I am happy to meet with any Aboriginal organisation or community across this State as much as I possibly can if my diary will allow’.
Mr Franklin also refused to pre-empt the outcome of any meeting, and said that, ‘We must genuinely collaborate and listen to their aims and ambitions and concerns in order to address them effectively’.
I am happy to meet with them
He went on: ‘Can we do that in every situation? No, because there are a range of competing interests within government and they must all be balanced. But I make the commitment that I am happy to meet with them’.
He added there was no plan on the table for the Dunoon Dam, ‘though there has certainly been discussion, and a different position has been promulgated by Rous County Council after the recent local government elections, which may lead to other actions. At the moment there is no plan on the table’. for the Government’s consideration. When there is one, obviously that will need to be considered’.
‘I reiterate the point I made in question time on Tuesday, which is that we must look at what we need to do to build water and other infrastructure in this State, but we must also be incredibly sympathetic to the concerns of Aboriginal people. I will not pre-empt the outcome of those conversations, nor will I pre-empt how we can work to ensure that their concerns addressed. That would be idiotic of me to do so in this place without having actually met with them and heard their concerns firsthand.
I will listen respectfully, appropriately and genuinely
I will obviously listen respectfully, appropriately and genuinely. I will do all I can to take those concerns back to the Government and advocate for them. That is critically important for Aboriginal people across the State and for the Government, when it is balancing up those interests, can decide how it will proceed. The other point is that there is no plan on the table for the Dunoon Dam, though there has certainly been discussion, and a different position has been promulgated by Rous County Council after the recent local government elections, which may lead to other actions. At the moment there is no plan on the table for the Government’s consideration. When there is one, obviously that will need to be considered’.
The Echo asked the Minister, who contested and failed to win the NSW seat of Ballina in 2019, if he still resided in Byron Shire. He replied, ‘Yes I am still a very proud resident of Byron. However, owing to my role as a Minister, I am home much less than I would like to be, as I have responsibilities across the state’.