NAILSMA Board visit to Ord Stage 2
In July 2013, Directors of the NAILSMA Board travelled to the east Kimberley to tour some of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme Stage 2 construction area, and hear about the impacts of the project from Miriuwung and Gajerrong Traditional Owners.
The Ord River scheme is an example of the kind of development that is being considered in other sites across north Australia.
The issues raised during the visit were consistent with concerns voiced by Indigenous people across the north, and echoed many of the statements agreed at the North Australian Indigenous Experts Forum on Sustainable Economic Development. These include the challenges and pressures of negotiation processes, the fundamental requirement for increased consideration of the aspirations of Traditional Owners, and the importance of maintaining connections between people, land and water.
The visit reiterated the view that Traditional Owners are not necessarily opposed to development on their country, but are instead seeking upfront and fuller participation in planning and decision making. This will shape better outcomes and ensure that considerations beyond just the financial are factored into what development should take place and what returns are going to be generated for Indigenous people, who are the majority local residents of the region.
Ultimately, projects like the Ord River scheme highlight the challenges of development in the north, where benefits often remain uncertain and are not always realised locally, while potentially significant impacts on a range of environmental and cultural values necessitate strong consultation processes and a culture of mutual engagement and respect.