Cultural disclosures & dinosaur footprints stall gas hub

ABC News 9th July 2011

An area of land at James Price Point will be investigated for cultural significance.

Woodside has stopped clearing an area of land at the site of its proposed gas hub at James Price Point north of Broome.

The Department of Indigenous Affairs says it was notified of a previously undeclared Aboriginal cultural site in the area several days ago.

The Department says Woodside has agreed to stop clearing that area while the site is investigated.

Meanwhile Woodside says experts will look for more dinosaur footprints at the gas hub site.

A State Government commissioned report last year found the development would not damage the best dinosaur footprints in the area.

Now, University of Queensland palaeontologist Steve Salisbury says he has found previously undiscovered footprints near the site and wants a full assessment of his findings.

Woodside says research indicates the known footprints are at the bottom end of the preservation scale compared to others on the same stretch of coastline.

However it says more research will be undertaken in consultation with traditional owners and the West Australian Museum.

And the former Indigenous Affairs Minister Ernie Bridge has likened the recent protests against the $30 billion gas hub to the Noonkanbah dispute in the 1970s.

Mr Bridge was the first indigenous man to become a cabinet minister in Australia.

He represented the Kimberley for 21 years and says he was a young man when Aboriginal people protested against Amax's attempts to drill for oil on Noonkanbah Station.

He says the recent protests against Woodside's plans to build a gas plant near Broome have brought back unhappy memories.

"The sad picture that I saw is that it wasn't unlike Noonkanbah," he said.

Mr Bridge has written to the Premier Colin Barnett offering to act as mediator.

ABC News 7th July 2011

A protest has begun outside Woodside's head office in Perth against the company's proposed gas hub, north of Broome.

The protesters claim they will 'arrest Woodside for crimes against the environment and communities in the Kimberley'.

Meanwhile, at James Price Point a third convoy of Woodside workers has today gained access to the site to continue clearing vegetation.

The company is allowed to clear 25 hectares of vegetation until final environmental approval for the project is given or withheld by the federal government.

Earlier this week 25 people were arrested during a tense stand-off with police, after refusing to allow Woodside vehicles and bulldozers through a month-long road blockade.

But this morning about 20 protesters stepped off the road and allowed Woodside vehicles to pass without incident.

Protester Roma Puertollano says the group is devastated.

"And this is NAIDOC week, NAIDOC week! Happy NAIDOC people," she said.

"What is happy about NAIDOC this year? It will be the saddest NAIDOC I've ever ever ever shared in this country in my lifetime."

Woodside begins work as blockade crumbles

ABC News July 6th 2011

Woodside has begun clearing the site of its proposed gas hub after police again broke through a blockade in Western Australia's Kimberley region.

Earlier this morning, about 30 protesters blocked the dirt road leading to Woodside's proposed $30 billion gas hub at James Price Point, north of Broome.

They said they would not let company vehicles through but when police advanced, the group parted and they passed through peacefully.

Woodside staff, vehicles and equipment are now at the work site which is 30 kilometres from the original blockade.

The company is allowed to clear 25 hectares of vegetation until final approval for the project is given or withheld.

About 15 protesters watched them working but police then blocked the road in both directions to stop more arriving and have been patrolling the site since.

Police told protesters not to interfere with the work.

"If you go within 30 metres of any work activity, you may be prosecuted for hindering, obstructing or preventing that lawful activity."

Protester Jael Johnson says while the protest has wound down for the time being, a contingent remains at the site.

"They're definitely being present and observing what's happening," he said.

"We'd love to stop the work but the police are there in huge numbers and walking alongside it as the bulldozers are moving through the bush so it is logistically very hard to stop that, so people are standing there and bearing witness."

Five people, including protest leader Joseph Roe, were forced to leave the area after being issued with move on notices.

Brutality claims rejected

Yesterday, there were ugly scenes when police formed a V formation and forcibly broke through lines containing about 100 protesters.

Melees broke out as the group pushed back and 25 people were arrested, including a 16-year-old girl and an Aboriginal elder.

Some, including protester Carly Balint, accused the police of heavy-handedness.

"I was surprised by the physical force and the aggression towards old people and kids," she said.

Police inspector Bill Munnee denies the claims and says police were the ones who were treated badly.

"Police have been spat on, punched, our tyres have been let down; police have shown a lot of restraint," he said.

Acting Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Brown says he has not seen any evidence of over zealous or heavy-handed policing.

"We want force to be used as, and where it's appropriate, and in no other circumstance," he said.

The Premier Colin Barnett says police will remain at the site as long as protesters continue to stop people going to work.

"I think there'll be protesters there for months," he said.

"Look, people are not entitled to take the law into their own hands and block the traffic and stop people going to work.

"They can protest and they'll be allowed to do that but they cannot obstruct others carrying on their lawfully entitled roles."

Petition

The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has been handed a petition with 2,000 signatures by a delegation from Broome which travelled to Canberra to voice its opposition to the gas hub.

Mr Burke says he also met an opposing group yesterday who were in favour of the LNG precinct.

The Minister, who has to make a final environmental decision on the gas plant before it can go ahead, says he cannot intervene in the arrests or Woodside's preliminary work at the site.

"I had to give the same answer to both groups and that is that if I prejudge the approval issue before the briefs come to me in a few months time, then whatever I decide just gets knocked out in court anyway, so I've got to keep an open mind," he said.

"It's not simply me playing a game of saying I won't pre-judge it, I actually haven't prejudged it.

"The legal question that I'll have to answer is, is James Price Point an appropriate place or not?"

Protesters say deal signing won't stop them

ABC News June 30th, 2011

Anti-gas hub protesters camped on the road to James Price Point say the signing of a land access deal does not change anything.

This morning the Western Australian Government, resources company Woodside and traditional owners in the Kimberley signed off on a land access deal to allow the construction of a $30 billion gas plant north of Broome.

The deal includes a $1.5 billion dollar benefits package over 30 years.

Traditional owners will now suspend their claim to the land.

However, the protesters say they remain committed to stopping the project.

Mitch Torres belongs to the traditional owner group but voted against the deal being struck.

"I think the signing today is just an example of business as usual for Woodside and the State Government," she said.

"They need to be seen as moving along but we're still steadfast here and we're still strong.

"We're still going to do the things we have to do; we are still taking our petitions to Canberra."

The protesters have been blockading the road to the site for more than two weeks, preventing Woodside vehicles from entering.

The Kimberley Land Council has called on them to end their protest.

It has lodged a complaint with the Department of Indigenous Affairs, stating the protesters have breached the Heritage Act.

Mr Bergmann has previously said the protest was going against the wishes of traditional owners.

Long time coming

The Premier has said the deal has been a long time in the making.

"This is an historic day for simply the scale of what is happening, not only in terms of a major resource project, but in terms of an agreement, a consent under the Native Title Act, that is by any measure historic," he said.

He acknowledged that it had been a difficult process.

"For the claimant groups and the traditional owners, this has been an emotional, a taxing and a difficult process," he said.

The Premier has also hailed it as the most significant act of self-determination ever by Aboriginal people

The Kimberley Land Council's Wayne Bergmann says today's ceremony is the culmination of years of negotiations.

"It's a very significant day today. Aboriginal people and all Australians should be very proud," he said.

In exchange for the Jabirr-Goolarabooloo people suspending their claim to the land, the Government will spend $250 million on housing, education and business development in the region.

Mr Bergmann says traditional owners have succeeded in their aim of minimising industrial development on their coast, while securing jobs and social infrastructure for the entire region.

"Although it's been some rocky roads to get there, Aboriginal people and all Australians should be very proud of the achievements," he said.

Anthony Watson, who helped negotiate the deal on behalf of the Jabirr-Goolarabooloo claim group, says it is time to get on with making sure the deal translates into real improvements to people's lives.

"I look at the pressure that has been put upon on us with this development in our region and I have mixed feelings," he said.

"But I'd like everything to work out good. The biggest concern is helping our people within the region to live a better lifestyle and a longer lifestyle," he said.

Woodside will provide the bulk of the compensation package.

The gas project is still awaiting a final investment decision by Woodside and also needs Commonwealth approval.

Frank Parriman and Wayne Bergmann.
Craig Doudle