19 October 2022

Ms TRISH DOYLE (Blue Mountains) (01:52): Today I draw the Chamber's attention to this Government's tokenistic and disingenuous engagement with First Nations peoples across our State, particularly in my community of the Blue Mountains. There has been much debate in this place regarding the Government's ill‑conceived plans to raise the Warragamba Dam wall. Significant focus of this discussion has been on the environmental devastation this project will bring, the astronomical cost blowouts it has entailed, and the lack of substantive evidence that it will mitigate flooding. However, one of the most pressing concerns about this project is the fact that it will destroy hundreds of sacred sites of the Gundungurra people.

The inundation of our World Heritage‑listed national park would see in excess of 800 culturally significant sites lost forever. Most of these are thousands of years old. They have survived millennia of extreme weather events, the invasion of this continent by a foreign power and subsequent centuries of colonialism. Not content with wrecking the natural amenity of one of the world's most recognised national parks, the Government now insists that it must destroy the cultural heritage of the Gundungurra people as well, all to make its developer mates a few quick bucks. We have been told rather ridiculously by the Premier, the member for Hawkesbury and even the Treasurer—who once claimed he would stand up for our national park against this plan—that they are putting "people before plants", a relatively plain slogan that is entirely misleading when it comes to what this debate is about.

Of course, Coalition members have no interest in putting people first; if they did, they would not have voted against building levies, building evacuation routes and moderating the dam's water levels just last week. What is more offensive about this slogan, though, is the asinine inference that those of us who are listening to the experts on this matter are just concerned about some plants and trees when one of the many things we are fundamentally concerned about is treating the Gundungurra people with some basic respect. I say to those opposite: I will put reconciliation ahead of a few quick bucks for developers every time. I will put anti‑racism ahead of political expediency every time. I will put healing over further division every time. I will never seek to sacrifice the healing process this nation is attempting to embark upon just so my mates can make some money.

The fact that the Liberals and The Nationals are willing to put that at risk for financial reasons is shameful. It is an affront to everything it should mean to serve in this Parliament. So let me say what the Government will not: The lands of this continent always were, and always will be, the lands of the First Nations people, and sovereignty was never ceded. Yes, we need a voice to Federal Parliament. Yes, we need treaty. Yes, we need truth‑telling. Ultimately, though, the true test of whether we will achieve that goal of reconciliation and righting the wrongs of the past and the present will be whether governments finally start listening to our First Nations brothers and sisters.

With the issue of the Warragamba Dam, as with so many other issues, the question of listening to the Gundungurra people is a question of whether or not this Government is serious about reconciliation. Ignoring the strongly held views of the traditional custodians of the land, the Dharug and the Gundungurra people in the mountains, and saying, "We're going to do whatever we want; your view is not relevant when it comes to your own land", is not only outrageously dismissive but symptomatic of a government that simply does not care about healing the racial wounds present across this State from centuries of colonialism.

There will be no meaningful reconciliation in New South Wales while we have a government that treats consultation with First Nations peoples as an afterthought. Worse, when it comes to Warragamba, the Government has treated consultation with the Gundungurra people not even as an afterthought but as a nuisance, and has sought to avoid every meaningful opportunity to take stock of the community's concerns about this project's impact on culturally significant sites. Would we expect other groups of people around the world to tolerate the same treatment of their cultural heritage? Surely, the answer to this question is of course not. Such desecration would be unconscionable. Yet for some reason this Government is behaving as if it is entirely appropriate to commit this kind of heinous cultural destruction against the sacred sites of the Gundungurra people.

We will not achieve a reconciled society while members opposite continue to arrogantly and disrespectfully act as though Indigenous sacred sites are somehow of lesser worth than sacred and culturally significant sites important to people of other races and cultural backgrounds. The Government must treat the authority of First Nations peoples over their land as being at least equal to that of the State, not lesser. Where there are disagreements between the State and traditional custodians about a project, the State must listen to and consult with First Nations communities, not dictate to them. I, and the Blue Mountains community, will fight tooth and nail to stop this project because, unlike those opposite, I give a "dam".