REPORTER: David O’Shea

The controversial Bakun Dam is one of the largest concrete-faced, rock-filled dams in the world. When the water poured in late last year, it flooded almost 700 square kilometres - an area the size of Singapore. Much of it is hundreds of metres deep. I join a group heading back to the place they were born at the far end of the dam, on what used to be the Ranjang River. It's a four-hour journey to Long Jawe and along the way we pass many picturesque villages, it's just that they're hundreds of metres below us.

LIAN NGAU (Translation): The land looks low now because the river is so high. They look like hills now, but they used to be mountains.

Bakun Dam is only the beginning. The state government, working with Hydro Tasmania, is embarking on one of the most ambitious plans in the history of hydro power. They want to build 12 dams like this one - flooding vast tracts of river valley land - and displacing tens of thousands of indigenous people. Those who have already lost their land and their homes have nothing but contempt for the project. Lian Ngau tells me he was given less than half the land he was promised by the government.

LIAN NGAU (Translation): The government said “If you go there we’ll give each household seven acres of land.” In the end they only gave us three acres. So where are the other four acres?  That’s not the way to manage development.  To this day they still haven’t given us the title deeds for our three acres.

Senator Idris Buang is a spokesman for the energy company building the dams.

REPORTER: Some of the people I've spoken to that were relocated from Bakun Dam and are now living in Sungai Asap, complained that they didn't receive the amount of compensation that they were promised.

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG, SARAWAK ENERGY BOARD:  They ought to receive unless something had happened along the way.

REPORTER: What might have happened?

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  But.. I wouldn’t know - some administrative sort of… hitch probably. But nevertheless, they ought to be compensated.  It would be illegal, actually, if they’re not.

CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN, JOURNALIST:  Billions have been generated out of the Bakun Dam – billions and it's a small population. They have been given a very meagre slice of the profits.

Clare Rewcastle Brown is an investigative journalist who writes a blog called the ‘Sarawak Report'. She says Hydro Tasmania is not working to its own standards because their contract partner does not comply with its ideals.

CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN:  Now Hydro Tasmania is heading up this project, the local people still don't know where they are going to be moved to when they are flooded out of their homes. No-one's been consulted. No-one's been told anything. How can this equate to the highest benchmark of corporate and social responsibility?

REPORTER: Is it your understanding that if all of these potential dams will be built, there will be tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of people, affected? A lot of people to relocate and where will you put them all?

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  I think you can rest assured that the state government is very, very serious in considering the fate of the people affected.  The government is very concerned in terms of giving them restitution, compensatory in nature, although they cannot get the very thing that they lost, but at least they’ll be put into a better position than before.  Economically, socially.
 
The government says the dams will eventually generate enormous power and will lead to job opportunities for all.

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  In 2020, we are poised to create more than a million jobs. In 2030, it is more than two million jobs.

At the centre of this dazzling plan is Hydro Tasmania.

ROY ADAIR, CEO – HYDRO TASMANIA:   We are delighted to be working with an organisation that values the sustainable development of hydropower. We are delighted to be working with what is one of the major opportunities in the world for the careful development of 20 gigawatts of capacity, which is a significant volume of capacity, which will fundamentally change the economic base of Sarawak.

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  A win-win situation.

The Sarawak Energy Board, or SEB, are also delighted.

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  We get expertise, we get guidance, we get 100 years of experience from Tasmania, for example.

REPORTER: Does it also give you an image boost, does it improve your public relations to have Hydro Tasmania involved?

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  Well, if there’s any image boost, it just comes naturally, but that is not our intention.

The Chairman of the SEB is Hamed Sepawi, the cousin of the all-powerful Chief Minister of Sarawak. He's also the Chairman of Ta Ann - the logging and plantation giant - who have a 20-year contract with Forestry Tasmania to access timber.

BOB BROWN, ENVIRONMENTAL CAMPAIGNER:  There's a very worrying relationship between the exploiters of Tasmania and the exploiters of Sarawak. Whether it's forests or whether it's damming wild and magnificent rivers.

REPORTER:  You're not concerned by the persistent allegations that swirl around SEB?

ROY ADAIR:  I can only speak on what we have found. I have found them to be a first-class professional outfit. They deal with the best standards of doing business. They have the highest standards of safety and sustainability very much at the heart of what they are doing.

CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN:  It's like a sort of James Bond megalomaniac vision.

Rewcastle Brown happens to be the sister-in-law of the former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. She's a very vocal critic of the whole system of governance and accountability in Sarawak.

CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN:  You can have the development argument, that's fair enough, but this hasn't been about development and progress for the people of Sarawak - it's been about money siphoned out into foreign bank accounts.

As the valley flooded, the villagers cut sections off the longhouse and wedged trees underneath. When the waters rose, so did the structures.

INGKONG LIAN (Translation): This is the kitchen, the longhouse went under, we raised the kitchen.

REPORTER (Translation): The longhouse…

LIAN NGAU (Translation):  We couldn’t raise it.

REPORTER (Translation): It was too big?

LIAN NGAU (Translation):  Yes, it was. The pillars were big.

Today they're moving what’s left of their house, a couple of hundred metres across the lake.

REPORTER (Translation):  Why are you moving?

INGKONG LIAN (Translation):  We are looking for somewhere where the water’s deeper. If the water level drops it will tilt. If the level drops, it will tilt.

LIAN NGAU (Translation):  It’s a miserable life. There’s no longhouse so we’re not together any more. We’re scattered all around here. If we want to have a meeting, we have to use a boat to get from one house to the next.

It's the fate of the church which really upsets him.

LIAN NGAU (Translation): Seeing the condition of the church, I feel very sad, now it’s like this. Even though we were able to raise it, I still feel sad when I look at it.

Even though the government built them their new longhouse, they say the construction is substandard and the location doesn't provide a livelihood. And as the years pass by, memories of their old village on the river are fading.

LIAN NGAU (Translation):  Is this the house on top of the hill?  Which one’s the church? Is this the church?

WOMAN (Translation):  All that red roofing is our old longhouse. Our home is here.

MAN (Translation): It used to be a good life, it was good upriver.

BOB BROWN:   It's the end of their universe, it's the end of their history, it's the end of their culture. It's the end of their way of life and productivity and raising their kids and telling them about their grandparents and what happened before. All that.

Recently retired Greens Leader Bob Brown is disgusted that Hydro Tasmania has played a role in this by providing consulting services.

BOB BROWN:  Which engineer in Hydro Tasmania is going to understand what it means to an indigenous person in Sarawak to have their whole life and history obliterated by a huge concrete dam?

On his first visit this far up Bakun Dam, Philip Jau is horrified by what he sees. He's from the Baram River, next on the Sarawak Energy Board and Hydro Tasmania's list to dam.

PHILIP JAU:  They just want to take our land, to destroy us, destroy our future, the future of our children, drown our land, drown our forests, drown our rivers.

CROWD:  Stop the dam!  Stop the dam!

He's been leading protests against the Baram Dam, but is understandably worried that no-one is listening.

PHILIP JAU:  I’ve travelled and I’ve visited and I’ve talked to the people in all the houses to be affected. They all don’t want this bloody dam. So the government must listen to the people and stop, and cancel, scrap this bloody stupid Baram Dam.

CROWD:  Stop the dam!

He directs his anger at the foreigners with the Sarawak Energy Board - the Tasmanians and the Norwegian CEO, who is on a salary package of more than $4 million per year.

PHILIP JAU:  You have no right. You are a foreigner. You have no right to speak for the people.  You only come to Long Na’ah for three days and you say the majority of the people want the dam. This is stupid.  You are lying. You get out of this state of Sarawak. Don’t ever come to Baram. You are saying nonsense. You are saying a blatant lie.  You are not telling the truth.  I am from Baram. I know what the people feel. You get out of Baram.
 
REPORTER: They claim there was no consultation with the local people on Baram...

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  As I said, it's underway. The process is being conducted now. There’s nothing complete yet.

REPORTER: But there is nothing going to stop the dam being built, right?

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  Well, it all depends on things, but as I said, we will put to the maximum our effort to explain things.

REPORTER: When will construction of Baram begin?

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  Well...

For exact detail, he needs to consult a Tasmanian, who appears to know much more than the people about to be flooded from their homes.

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  2014.

Clare Rewcastle Brown says it's unacceptable for a Tasmanian public company to be getting involved in this.

CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN:  Where's the accountability? Where's the consultation? Where are the environmental impact assessments? These things should be bread and butter for a company that abides by the highest standards.

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  Right now, feasibility studies are being done and social, environmental impact are underway.
 
REPORTER: There is nothing that is going to stop that, is that right?

SENATOR IDRIS BUANG:  As it is, it has to go on. As I said the need to have all these dams that we planned for overrides any other thing, you know, in the interest of the greater good of Sarawakians.

BOB BROWN:   There is a secrecy at the top levels of state in Tasmania and in Sarawak about what is going on. The people don't know. They don't know who’s getting the money. They don't know who’s wielding the influence and they don't know in either place what the plans are for the future. They should know, because they'd be worried if they did know.

KIM BOOTH MP, GREENS MEMBER FOR BASS:  Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Energy.

In Tasmania, Brown's former colleagues are searching for answers too.

KIM BOOTH MP:  Minister… As Shareholder Minister for Hydro Tasmania, you would be aware that I have made a right to information application seeking information...

Kim Booth has asked several questions in parliament about the Hydro Tasmania deal with the Sarawak Energy Board.

KIM BOOTH MP:  You would also be aware that Hydro Tasmania refused to release any information.

The Sarawak Energy Board objected to the release of the information and Hydro Tasmania deemed the details “of a commercial and financial nature” which would have disclosed “be likely to expose Hydro Tasmania to a competitive disadvantage.”

Booth was told, however, that the work was “in accordance with the highest standards of sustainability and entirely consistent with the values of Hydro Tasmania.”

KIM BOOTH MP:   While this is reassuring, Minister, it is relatively meaningless given that he did not also provide detail on how these values are assessed and weighed up against the risk of undertaking work in politically unstable places like Sarawak, on projects that have displaced thousands of indigenous people.

In fact they're blocking normal requests under access for right to information, it's being blocked by Hydro Tasmania for no apparent good reason.

Rewcastle Brown says the lack of transparency and accountability is scandalous.

CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN:  They would never get away with that in a project in Australia. Why is it okay to do it here in Borneo? They are ruining one of the most precious environments left on our planet. That's why we care.

YALDA HAKIM:  David O’Shea in Sarawak. After the break, we continue our investigation into Malaysia’s Ta Ann company and their logging contracts in Tasmania’s old forests.

BOB BROWN:  This is a nasty company, which has had the ability to destroy the universe of their fellow Sarawakians, the indigenous people of Sarawak, please don’t ask me to sympathise with a company that can do that, then comes to Tasmania.

 

 

 

ALDA HAKIM:  David O’Shea with that investigation.


Reporter/Camera
DAVID O’SHEA

Producers
GARRY MCNAB
PETER CHARLEY

Researcher
MELANIE MORRISON

Editors
SUE BELL
DAVID POTTS
NICK O’BRIEN

Original Music Composed by
VICKI HANSEN

 
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