The Western Australian government has finalised its acquisition of land in the Kimberley for future development, despite long-standing opposition from environmentalists and the local Aboriginal community.
The 3414 hectares of land near James Price Point — part of one of the most ecologically opulent and pristine stretches of land left in the world — north of Broome, was bought from traditional landowners as “unallocated crown land.”
The area is now under management of LandCorp and the Broome Port Authority.
As part of a native title agreement made in 2011 with the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr native title claimant group, a finalisation has prompted a $20 million economic development fund as well as $10 million for Aboriginal housing.
It is unclear when the community will actually receive any benefit from this package, as the claimant group, after 15 years of sharing a joint claim, split to file individually.
State Premier Colin Barnett said the already near-two-decade-long claim is no indication to go by, assuring an eventual resolution.
“It won’t be years at all,” he said.
“Those issues will be sorted out. I can’t predict it but it’s not going to be years and years.”
The funds will remain in a trust until the claims by the Goolarabooloo families and the Jabirr Jabirr peoples have been resolved.
The land is earmarked for future gas and oil processing, or to be used as a supply base for crews in the Browse Basin.
The controversial project was originally sought by petroleum giant Woodside, who abandoned the onshore processing site in lieu of the more economically viable option of floating liquified natural gas (LNG) technology.
Although there are no current plans for immediate development, a consortium of developers including Woodside Petroleum and its partners, could lease the land from the state government.
Barnett said he was “very confident that at some stage in the future you will see gas coming onshore at James Price Point.”
NATIVE TITLE CLAIM ON THE BACK BURNER
The claim for native title of the land has been a 15-year struggle for the Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr people, who until recently sought the land under a single claim.
In 2011 they signed a deal to allow a LNG precinct to be built in the Kimberley by Woodside and the state government under the condition of a $30 million benefits package.
Barnett thanked landowners for their “support” on the acquisition.
But the Goolarabooloo families led by brothers Joseph and Philip Roe vehemently oppose development on the land.
The group subsequently split and filed separate claims.
Joseph Roe told the ABC in February he was very happy to pursue a separate claim to protect his land.
“[I’ll] get my native title claim registered, protect my sites up there, burial sites, the song cycle, and everything in that country.”
Approval for the gas hub that would have accommodated Woodside was overturned by Supreme Court Chief Justice Wayne Martin, who ruled three approval decisions made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be invalid and unlawful.
The lawsuit filed by the Wilderness Society and Richard Hunter, a traditional landowner, found EPA chair Paul Vogel had disregarded four out of five EPA members that declared a clear conflict of interest and made the final approval decision himself.
In April, Woodside withdrew its plans to continue development in the area. The decision was celebrated by Aboriginal and conservation groups that have been involved in many protests and blockades over the past decade, acts which will now be rewarded with criminal charges if done on site.
“[Protests and blockades] are unlawful and the police will act if it happens again,” Barnett said.
Barnett said the approvals will be rerun and the decision by the Supreme Court was not fatal to development.
The announcement by the Premier comes off the back of high accolades from travel guide publisher Lonely Planet for the region, placing the Kimberley in the number two spot for the world’s top regions to visit in 2014.
Lonely Planet said: “Explore the area now, before big business encroaches.”
Indeed, it is now closer than ever.