Kimberley rally forces response from Labor and Liberal

Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The campaign against the gas hub at Walmadan (James Price Point) in the Kimberley received a huge boost when about 20,000 people marched through the streets of Fremantle and attended a vibrant and political “Concert for the Kimberley” on February 24.

Headlined by high-profile music acts like the John Butler Trio and Missy Higgins, the concert was the latest in a series of campaign events around the country spearheaded by the Wilderness Society and John Butler. The purpose of the campaign is to save the Kimberley environment and in particular to stop the proposed gas hub at James Price Point.

The gas hub is controversial because the state government has used compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land to allow the site for the gas hub and because the environmental consequences of the development are enormous.

There has been a lot of speculation in recent months that the costs imposed by community opposition and legal hurdles are making the project's proponents look to other options, including an offshore, floating gas hub.

The state government has rejected the proposition of a floating gas hub. It says “benefits” to the Western Australian community — including an allocation of gas to the local gas market and the “benefits package” for local Aboriginal communities — would not be available in the event of an offshore development.

State Premier Colin Barnett has said that, while there may be lower costs offshore, the project would still be profitable with a James Price Point gas hub and his government is not prepared to give approval to an offshore development.

February 24 Kimberley rally.

This means environmentalists are increasingly confident that a victory on the gas hub campaign is possible. The size of the February 24 concert therefore is important.

Commenting on the rally, Wilderness Society WA coordinator said "the only two times in recent history that we've seen rallies of this size in Perth have been for the old growth forests and Ningaloo, and both campaigns went on to great success”.

The state government has also announced a new national park in the Kimberley and a big extension to the planned Great Kimberley Marine Park. The new national park would be bigger than Kakadu — now Australia's largest.

The announcement by the government itself is similar to plans announced by the ALP opposition on February 22.

Both promises have been welcomed by environmentalists, but the proposed parks ignore James Price Point. Barnett and Labor opposition leader Mark McGowan have both insisted the gas must be processed onshore. McGowan, however, has hinted that he may consider a different site to James Price Point.

The fact that the leaders are forced to respond to the campaign is another indication of its strength. So far, however, McGowan and Barnett are both siding with corporate interests against the community.

GreenLeftTV on the January 24 Kimberley rally: