Traditional Owners say the resources company attempting to frack in the Beetaloo basin hung up on them and ignored their questions at the company’s Annual General meeting on Wednesday.
Traditional Owners and Native Title holders including Aunty Naomi Wilfred, Aunty Gillian Limmen and Alawa Elder Aunty May August attended Origin Energy’s Annual General Meeting via teleconference.
The group intended to voice concerns about what they call a lack of free and informed prior consent for the resources company’s fracking project on their Country.
They said they were shown “disgraceful” disrespect by those conducting the meeting.
Aunty May was allegedly hung up on when she reached the front of the queue and moved to the back of the queue.
According to GetUp, the experience was ‘rattling’ for her as a senior Elder, and she’s calling for the company to meet with her on Country.
“I’m a Traditional Owner of Alawa Country in the Northern Territory. Origin’s fracking project would destroy my Country, land, water, and community,” Aunty May said.
“We have said no since the beginning. It is my right to say no.”
“When will Origin come to meet with me on my Country?”
GetUp said that as the meeting went on, Origin also undercut Traditional Owners and Native Title holders like Aunty Naomi and Aunty Gillian, who were waiting to ask questions about the effects of fracking on their Country, and Origin’s lack of consultation.
When the Traditional Owners said they had not been consulted, Origin Chair Scott Perkins contradicted them.
GetUp First Nations Justice Campaign Director Larissa Baldwin said the alleged behaviour is typical of the mining giant, and said First Nations people are used to it.
“It’s ironic that Origin silenced and cut off Traditional Owners questioning them, just so they could talk about how hard they’ve worked to get ‘consent’ from those same Traditional Owners.”
“They talk about ‘consultation’ and ‘consent’, but it’s a facade. In reality, they steamroll over anyone who opposes them – even entire communities that unite against fracking on their land.”
She called for the company’s chair to meet with Aunty May and her fellow Elders.
“Origin chair Scott Perkins should personally apologise to Aunty May, and travel to Alawa Country to meet with her and other Traditional Owners so he can hear for himself what they think of Origin’s plans,” said Baldwin.
“After such a disgraceful display of disrespect, it’s the least he could do.”
A spokesperson for Origin denies the allegations, calling them “completely false”.
They said most of the discussion during the AGM was driven by people opposed to the Beetaloo fracking project.
“As always, Origin welcomed a healthy discussion during the meeting, answering around 50 questions across a wide range of topics. This included questions from Traditional Owners, who the Chairman responded to respectfully,” they said.
“We encourage and welcome a healthy debate around our project and the role of gas in meeting society’s energy needs, however there is a level of misinformation that continues to be deliberately spread.”
Origin said they would welcome an opportunity to meet with the Traditional Owners.
“As Origin has so far carried out work on just 0.01 per cent of our Beetaloo permit areas, or around 250 hectares, our focus has been on engaging with the Native Title Holders on those areas where we are working.”
“We understand there may be differing views in any community about fracking. Origin has consistently said that we are open to meeting with any Native Title Holders or community members who want to learn more about our work. If invited, we would welcome the opportunity to come to community and meet, listen and discuss any concerns.”
After a crucial disallowance vote failed in August, fracking in the Beetaloo Basin looks set to go ahead, despite Traditional Owners concerns that the process has the potential to spill possibly toxic frack fluid into the Beetaloo aquifer.
By Sarah Smit