Kimberley Gas Hub - The fight primed to explode

Paddy Roe 1855-2001
The late Paddy Roe

Joseph Roe
Current Lawman Joseph Roe

When the late Paddy Roe was made Keeper of the Law of the peoples by the last traditional owners living on country around Walmadan (James Price Point), he couldn't have imagined the complexity of the fight required for its protection.

Now his grandson Joseph has inherited the resposibility to protect the sacred land against the Woodside mining company and the Western Australian government who have deviously divided the Indigenous community to get their way by offering them services and opportunities that should be expected by all Australians, without giving up anything.

Schools, housing, quality health services and enterprise opportunities are readily available to the invaders and their following generations but Indigenous people are usually expected to surrender their culture and land to access these basic community services.

The extreme right wing media led by 'The Australian' newspaper has been providing readers with columns of propaganda about the benefits for the local people but a miniscule amount of information is ever heard about the views of the Indigenous people who oppose the development.

The overwhelming environmental impacts that the new gas hub will have on the land, sea and air in the wider region and the divisive strategies they have implemented to gain support from some of the local Indiegnous people is swept under the carpet as the Western Australian government and the Woodside mining company smell the holy dollar.

Some of the cultural background of James Price Point - Paddy Roe's Story
Paddy Roe AUDIO Audio file ABC Podcast Interview: Paddy Roe - elder, teacher and storyteller mp3 file

Fight primed to explode as sparks fly over gas hub

Paddy Manning Sydney Morning Herald October 1, 2011

If Woodside, the Premier of Western Australia Colin Barnett and the Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson, wanted a fight over the Browse gas hub on the Kimberley coast, they've got it.

It shouldn't have come to this, given the commercial rationale behind the $30 billion project is decidedly shaky and Woodside, enough analysts say, has plenty of balls in the air already amid constant takeover speculation, cost blow-outs at Pluto and delicate negotiations ahead over the Sunrise project in East Timor.

But it has, and a national and international campaign is ramping up that will target investors in Woodside, its lenders, its joint-venture partners and the "offtaker" customers who might want to buy gas from the Browse Basin.

By combing the register for beneficial owners of Woodside shares, Save the Kimberley campaigners have made a list of the company's biggest shareholders.

Among the biggest to be dragged into the Browse dispute are the People's Bank of China and funds giant Capital International (both holding more than 10 million shares), sovereign funds from Abu Dhabi and Norway (more than four million shares each), Australian Super, QIC and Industry Funds Management (ditto), the Future Fund and even the UN staff pension plan (one million-plus shares each).

On Tuesday night, some of these shareholders no doubt dialled in to an investor briefing by the Australian Conservation Foundation, hosted by Citi.

Time was, green groups would struggle to get face-time with big financial institutions. These days, according to Citi analyst Elaine Prior, investors realise they might get a useful perspective by listening to the likes of the ACF, and it's normal to bring them together.

"Investors are primarily interested in whether there are risks to project timelines," Prior told Weekend Business this week.

ACF economic adviser Simon O'Connor told those investors about the dinosaur footprints in the intertidal zone - which are now heritage-listed. They must somehow be crossed to build the gas hub and were the subject of a letter by 80 paleontologists, published recently in Nature magazine.

O'Connor says that puts the bite on Woodside's big partners (Chevron, Shell, BHP Billiton and BP) "who are maybe more sensitive, given how the oil and gas sector has been burnt over the last few years, including Deepwater Horizon".

"We're putting our call to action to investors to say you guys need to start asking Woodside and other JV partners, is this the best location for processing the Browse basin gas, and are there alternative site options that should be investigated?"

The Wilderness Society campaign director, Lyndon Schneiders, was more blunt, recently saying: "We are going to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, to stop this divisive and inappropriate proposal. If we lose here, the whole of the Kimberley will be at threat."

Woodside's partners know there's a fight coming and would prefer less contentious alternatives, like piping the Browse gas down to Karratha for liquefaction, or floating platforms offshore - but stringent "use it or lose it" measures imposed by the federal government require the partners to make a final investment decision on developing the James Price Point site by mid-2012. WikiLeaks cables showed Chevron and BHP Billiton considered these requirements "unprecedented and concerning", saying they heightened investment risk and would force them to use Woodside's infrastructure.

Timing is critical, but the Browse project is getting bogged down - especially among a divided indigenous community. From a distance, the politics aren't clear. It seems to boil down to this: was the May vote, won 168-108 by the pro-gas members of the Aboriginal community, supporting the Kimberley Land Council, fair and valid?

The vote was carried under the threat of compulsory acquisition of the gas hub site at James Price Point by the West Australian government. If the compulsory acquisition process was flawed, as the West Australian Supreme Court may decide later this month, it's back to square one.

Local Aboriginal filmmaker Mitch Torres, in Sydney this week for the Deadly Awards for indigenous music and performing arts, opposes the gas hub and says "we will never accept that verdict. 168 people cannot decide for the town of Broome. It's not a Jabbir Jabbir town. People from all different walks of life call Broome home.

"It opens the gate to full industrialisation of the Kimberley - coal, uranium, an alumina refinery. The state government is looking at turning our pristine Kimberley into another Pilbara," he said.

Anne Poelina, a traditional owner and academic, acknowledges there are divisions and says senior Aboriginal cultural bosses, including Patrick Dodson and Peter Yu, are concerned about "the way business is being done in the Kimberley … [and a] develop-at-all-costs mentality".

There are also concerns, raised in the West Australian Parliament, that former KLC chief Wayne Bergmann's new venture, Kimberley Regional Economic Development Enterprises (KRED), which is owned by the Ambooriny Burru Foundation and will seek to win civil engineering and other commercial contracts with resource projects in the region, could throw up conflicts of interest.

Bergmann, the key driver of the $1.5 billion deal between KLC and Woodside, says KRED won't be involved in any projects around James Price Point as he would be accused of "feathering his own nest".

The new Woodside chief executive, Peter Coleman, the Australian-born former ExxonMobil executive, is reportedly chafing at the involvement of people from eastern states who don't have "skin in the game".

Precisely who's got skin in the game? Not just those with a bonus on the line. Just like the 1980s campaign to save the wild Franklin River, plenty of Australians who may never have been to the Kimberley coast, and may never go, want to know it's there, as it is.