Kimberley gas hub to proceed despite heritage listing

Two of the protesters who locked on to a cement filled 44-gallon drum in the middle of an access road, successfully halting the

The federal government rejected bids to protect James Price Point from gas development when it announced its National Heritage Listing of almost 20 million hectares of the iconic Kimberley region in Western Australia last week.

Federal environment minister Tony Burke explained the decision to apply heritage listing to a portion of the Kimberley: "The west Kimberley is one of the most magnificent parts of the continent and its placement on the National Heritage List will ensure it is protected for future generations."

The decision has drawn criticism with environmentalists, developers and the Western Australia premier, all expressing concern over various aspects of the new protective measure.

The WA state government and mining industry representatives say that the decision adds an unnecessary extra bureaucratic step to the planning process, which will impact on future investment.

But environment groups, some traditional owners and the Greens are concerned the listing doesn't have the capacity to adequately protect the region from inappropriate development.

Burke said: "It is important to recognise national heritage listing is about protecting our nation’s outstanding heritage values by considering them in any development proposal under national environmental law and the listing itself does not prevent development.

"National heritage listing protects heritage values; it is not an automatic lock-up."

However WA Premier Colin Barnett told ABC on September 1: "That decision will affect every existing and proposed project and activity. And I don't see that that will do much to help preserve, protect and rehabilitate parts of the Kimberley."

Mining industry representatives are unhappy with the minister's decision too.

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies National Policy Manager Graham Short said of the Kimberley, "it is not all pristine and iconic."

"The proposed blanket listing of 19 million hectares in the West Kimberley region of Australia will add an unwarranted and unnecessary layer of approval for all future mineral exploration and mining activities."

Burke's decision affects future investment in the region, Short said: "Western Australia's reputation as a safe place in which to invest will also be severely tarnished."

But environmental groups insist the measures don't go far enough and have denounced Burke's decision not to list the area set to house Woodside's gas processing hub.

"Of particular concern to Save the Kimberley is the omission of non-intertidal parts of the James Price Point area from the listing," said advocacy group Save the Kimberley, who have vowed to continue their campaign to protect the region.

The Greens have said that the heritage listing announcement is further proof of the value of the region. However, Senator Rachel Siewert also expressed disappointment in James Price Point being overlooked.

"It is unfortunate that [the] announcement does nothing to protect the Kimberley from the construction of the proposed LNG factory at James Price Point,” she said.

"The wider issues surrounding the James Price Point development are not going to disappear. The high level of concerns about the social and environmental impact of the project, the Native Title process undertaken and the longer term implications for the Kimberley must all still be dealt with."

Burke's decision also prompted a surprise announcement from former Kimberley Land Council executive director Wayne Bergmann who was instrumental in negotiating the $1.5bn deal between Woodside and traditional owners of the James Price Point site to allow the project.

Bergmann withdrew his support explaining there are no plans to deal with the social impacts of the project, a factor he cites as having been key in gaining support from traditional landowners for the development.

He said that Burke should therefore not approve the development.

Protesters at the ongoing blockade of Woodside's $30 billion gas processing project at James Price Point agree.

Burke's Heritage Listing announcement comes after several recent arrests at the blockade.

Two women were arrested after locking on to a cement filled 44-gallon drum in the middle of an access road, successfully halting the convoy of workers attempting to get to the development site.

"It's expected that it's going to be extremely difficult for us to be removed. We're both very committed to being here for a long time because we'd like to stop Woodside trucks from getting in here and resuming their unapproved work on this amazing country," one of the protesters said in a video published by advocacy group Save the Kimberley who are coordinating the blockade against Woodside.

Another woman locked on to a piece of equipment.

All three women were locked on in protest for over 30 hours. They vow to continue their campaign to protect the region.

Save the Kimberley explained: "The Kimberley is too special to be sold out to multinational oil, gas and mining companies."