Fight to save James Price Point from gas hub intensifies

Jenny Curtis SBS 20th July 2011

The fight to stop a gas hub being built in the Kimberley, Western Australia, continues in full force, despite repeated police intervention.

The protestors, many of whom are traditional owners of the land, say the $30-billion project will destroy ancient Aboriginal sacred sites.

However, their blockade is being continually broken as police remove protestors, allowing the contractors employed by Woodside the developer, to pass though.

This standoff has been in place for the past seven weeks. The protestors believe even if the contractors eventually get through, their disruptive presence is an effective delaying tactic.

Witnessing the bulldozers rolling in to clear the 25 hectare site is too much for some Jabbir Jabbir Golarabaloo traditional owners to bear.

Elsta Foy, Traditional Owner says she will never stop fighting the gas plant.

"This is my grandchildren's future. This is my grandson, I got another one and another one, so what have we got to leave them. And this is for all Australians, this is not just for us, but our kids are still practising law in this ground, I'm going to be strong. I don't want them to do this anymore," she said.

They claim there are sacred burial grounds within the land.

"How could you? How could you just tear up our country? That we've been looking after, keeping it safe, from people like them, " traditional owner Rowena Puertallano said.

This is a campaign backed by many locals and environmentalists. They say they'll do everything to prevent the Kimberley from becoming industrialised.

"Woodside should not be here. They do not have the final approvals in place. There is every likelihood the government will not back this project," Lyndon Schneiders from the Wilderness Society said.

Traditional owners are split. Those who recently voted in favour of the gas hub, insist the deal they've signed with Woodside will greatly benefit the local indigenous community.

"It's exceptional because in the past we've seen the government funding just doesn't go anywhere," Jabbir Jabbit Goolarabaloo traditional owner Mervyn Maher said.

This deal is bigger than any other deal that's been made in the past in Aboriginal Australia.

The police presence at James Price Point looks set to stay:

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

Those protesting say they refuse to be deterred by the threat of being carted away by the police. Some have been demonstrating for many months now and say they're prepared to fight until the very end.

Woodside says it has the required permission to proceed, that it's business as usual and that the protestors are not hindering the contractors' work.

If the Federal Government does give the gas hub its seal of approval, building is expected to begin in 2012.

Elders 'pressured into James Price Point decision'

Jenny Curtis SBS 16th May 2011

Traditional owners of James Price Point near Broome say they were rushed into the decision to approve a massive gas plant on their land by the WA government's threat to compulsorily acquire the land.

The first talks about the plan began in 2005 when the WA Labor government announced it would invest in a gas hub in the Kimberley region.

The Woodside company came on board and began searching for a suitable site.

Today it's a joint venture including BHP, Shell and Chevron.

James Price Point was selected, but the move was not welcomed by many of the traditional owners, the Jabirr Jabirr and Goolarabooloo people, who were concerned about the impact on their land.

The Kimberley Land Council was appointed to represent native title claimants and keep them as best informed as possible throughout negotiations.

Wayne Bergmann, the director for the KLC, says the dynamics of those talks changed dramatically in 2008.

"The Liberal-National Government came into power, which then pulled the rug under us... Colin Barnett as Premier said, sorry, this is a decision for governments. We won't let this decision rest with Aboriginal people, but we'll invest in a process to get an agreement".

Wayne Barker is the co-chair of the Traditional owners negotiating committee.

He says the attitude of the new Coalition government put a time bomb right in the heart of the negotiating process.

"It put us against the wall really. It was negotiations basically with a gun to our head; you will have to negotiate. It doesn't allow us to negotiate until finality; when we're all exhausted or when we get to a point when we can actually say, this is the best deal we can possibly get," he told SBS.

Because the time was ticking under the compulsory acquisition regime, it didn't allow us to enjoy that space. So we were constantly threatened by the State Government just taking our country, if they didn't take the country anyway".

It's a sentiment echoed by the Kimberley Land Council's Wayne Bergmann.

"It certainly punctured the tyres on the vehicle that we and the integrity of the process we had originally set up, and as a result of calling it, it's gone over a year and a half through this process, coming up to two years I think, with the Premier threatening compulsory acquisition," he told SBS.

"There's something not nice about a compulsory acquisition process, where the premier is laying down threats and you're trying to get an informed decision making process."

The State Government gave the Kimberley Land Council around $17-million to pay for the negotiating process; a move some have argued was bribery, placing excessive pressure on the council to ensure traditional owners agreed to the gas hub.

But Wayne Bergmann says the money was imperative so land owners could be given the best information possible about both the project.

"We paid for the best lawyers to get the best gas experts, the best environmental scientists. We had one of the best social impact teams in Australia doing studies, and we had to carry out a lot of work associated with the project; heritage clearances, environmental studies.

"They are all parts, nuts and bolts of making a decision so it's ludicrous to say that way influenced people's decision making".

A compensation package, was put on the table, worth about $1.5 billion over the life of the project.

It includes funding for new homes, economic development, jobs and education.

In addition the State Government has promised there will be no further construction of LNG plants on the Kimberley coastline.

Traditional owners finally voted 60-40 in favour of the deal.

Wayne Barker, from the Traditional owners negotiating committee, says a large proportion believe it's time to embrace this level of economic development in the Kimberley.

"Our community has struggles like all those other Indigenous communities around this country. What we're trying to do is trying to get our head space and our thinking into change, and we've got to change it on the basis of what we can do now," he told SBS.

"And that is a big ask of people who've been recipients of welfare, struggled in dysfunctional communities, dealing with an oppressive lifestyle, It's really hard for people and I think, yes there is change, change is scary but at the same time do we stay where we are at the status quo and watch our people die around us".

Kimberley Land Council director, Wayne Bergman, believes it's a good deal.

"There is no package like this in Australia or in the world that deals with these issues so comprehensively, and also I believe it was the informed decision of traditional owners, who exercised a vote, that voted 60 percent to 40 percent in favour of moving forward".

However, Wayne Barker, says the whole process, which dragged over six years in total, has left the traditional owners exhausted.

"Alongside of all of that we continue to have suicides and old people passing away and a whole lot of stress and it was awful and we're still reeling. We feel like we've been in 12-rounds of a boxing match with a heavyweight champion of the world. It really knocked us for six".

The next stage is for the State and Federal Governments to give the site development their final approval and for Woodside and its joint venture partners to release their investment plan.

Comments

Coercion is not consultative

Where is the proper consultation?
Coercing a community is not consulting them.
I am sick of Goverments prioritising corporations and $ over Australia's Indigenous people and their sacred rites and responsibilities.
Unless the majority of those communities in that area are behind the gas plant it should not have got off the ground.
When will Indigenous Australians gain the self determination they need to build strength and heal?!

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