Austral Bricks’ Cardup stakeholder group has been advised that test results will be withheld and its future is under review over allegations that members breached confidentiality in talking to the media.
According to correspondence obtained by Examiner Newspapers, Cardup Stakeholder Consultative Group (SCG) members were advised by the group’s independent chairperson that a decision had been made not to release the results of recent clay testing after the company was subject to “potentially libellous advertising” in the local media.
In a letter sent to members, Talis Consultants associate director Andrew Mack, who has chaired the group for almost five years, said there were concerns the release of the results could lead to “further misleading information” ending up in the public domain.
A second notice, circulated to members just last month, stated that comments contained in public submissions made over the company’s proposed $55m expansion appeared to misrepresent discussions held exclusively with the group, leading Mr Mack to believe that members may have breached the terms of reference agreed to in September, 2018.
Mr Mack said it was his role as chair to ensure that the terms were complied with and, in light of the details within the submissions, he had launched a review to determine whether the SCG in its current form had been “compromised”.
The letter was sent just weeks after Examiner Newspapers published an article featuring comments from members of the group, who aired concerns about the potential health and environmental impacts of Austral Bricks’ plan to expand the factory’s footprint by 8944 square-metres in the growing residential area.
It is understood the group’s members have also been distributing flyers about the proposed expansion to the broader Serpentine-Jarrahdale community.
Stakeholder Consultative Group member Alan Clarkson, who has been on the group for almost eight years, labelled the move as “intimidation” and insisted the group was simply being active and thorough in the interests of the community.
“We find it very disturbing that the company would do this and I would have to view it as bullying to stop the group from doing what a stakeholder group should do – and that’s look after the community,” he said.
“We’ve always asked for consistent and reliable reporting on ground water, on dust and on emissions and we stand by what we said – there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
But Mr Mack denied any wrongdoing and said it was part of his role to ensure that the terms of reference were adhered to by the SCG, particularly in relation to conflicts of interest, code of conduct and confidentiality expectations.
“I take my role very seriously, and have always endeavoured to operate independently of the various parties involved and provide the benefit of my knowledge and experience to the SCG’s members,” he said.
“I am therefore disappointed by the allegations made and disagree that the communications I sent to the SCG constitute a form of bullying or intimidation.”
Austral Bricks WA general manager David Johnson said the company remained committed to working closely with the group, which was formed in 2013 and includes community members, the Ratepayers Association, the shire and an independent chair, and managing its operations in a manner so it does not adversely affect the community or environment.
Mr Johnson said the company had undertaken a number of assessments, including environmental modelling, to support its expansion application – all of which had been made publicly available through the shire’s public consultation process.
“These state and local government approval processes are extremely thorough and ensure all relevant risks and impacts are assessed and appropriately controlled and Austral Bricks has not been required to conduct any further reviews or assessments by the relevant authorities,” he said.
The company has been part of the community for more than a century, having operated on the southern extremity of Byford since the late 1890s.