WaterNSW independent internal investigation finds 'bribery' claims unsubstantiated

WaterNSW has revealed its findings from last year's independent investigation into claims a traditional landowner 'felt bribed' during the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the proposal to raise the Warragamba Dam wall.

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

WaterNSW concluded there were 'no grounds' to consider notification to appropriate regulators or undertake disciplinary action.

Proud Gundungurra woman Kazan Brown said at the time that she 'felt bribed' by these government consultants to support the raising of the wall.

Ms Brown told the select committee that she felt the impact this plan would have on cultural sites in the region had been downplayed throughout the consultation process.

"There is no better example of the government and its consultants' disrespect towards our culture then what occurred at a meeting held on the 22nd of July 2019," the Warragamba resident told the inquiry last year.

"A representative from Niche (Niche Environment and Heritage) and a representative from WaterNSW said to us that if the project were to proceed, they would give our people access to areas of the catchment that we are currently locked out of.

"They even went on to say at this meeting that we would be given employment if we were agreed to the project proceeding. We shouldn't have to choose between having access to our sites and destroying them, nor do we want their jobs."

The committee chairman, Justin Field, asked Ms Brown if she fell that she was being "bribed".

To which Ms Brown responded: "Yes, I did. I thought it was like having a lolly or something dangled in front of me."

In response to these claims WaterNSW launched an investigation, carried out by an independent legal firm.

Relevant participants involved in the 2019 meeting where the alleged comments were made were interviewed.

This process has now concluded following responses by all participants including Ms Brown.

A statement posted to the WaterNSW website states that 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 statement read.

"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'."

The statement said there were 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," the statement read.

"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."

The NSW Government has proposed raising the Warragamba Dam wall in an effort to mitigate flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley region.

However indigenous residents, scientists, environmental action groups, councils, politicians and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have raised various concerns about the plan.