The fight to stop the James Price Point gas hub in the Kimberly in Western Australia's north reached a critical point on July 4 as police arrested dozens of people. The arrests were an attempt to break the spirit of the community protesters who have blockaded the site for a month.
Woodside Petroleum is the lead company in a consortium that is planning to build a $30 billion gas-processing hub that would destroy pristine environment and result in up to 39 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution a year.
The campaigners and arrestees include local Aboriginal people defending their country.
This heavy-handed action by police took place in the week of the National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Commemoration. It shows how little regard Woodside and the state government have for Aboriginal rights.
The Save the Kimberley website said police arrived in force before first light, waking 100 people who had camped overnight.
Seven police cars had been held up in the pre-dawn on July 4 but “after some discussion, the police vehicles were allowed through — just like all tourists and local vehicles have been for 30 days” though “without the friendly wave and well wishes that were customary”.
Woodside vehicles by contrast were not allowed through and when police tried to break the blockade, they were held back by a protest that had grown to 200 people.
Save the Kimberley makes the issues in dispute clear: “The protesters had no intention of allowing clearing and drilling workers or machinery through.
“They stood on principle. Protesters were supporting Indigenous Custodians to protect Culture and Country. They were acting to stop the environmental and social nightmare of a polluting gas plant on their doorstep.
“There were also justified concerns expressed about this development being a ‘thin edge of the wedge’ for industrialisation of the Kimberley, one of the world's last great wilderness areas.”
Save the Kimberley said: “Police moved in with clear intentions of making arrests.
“There were tears as three Indigenous women including a grandmother and her granddaughter were forcibly carried away from the protest. This during NAIDOC week.
“Other brave people including mothers and grandmothers were hauled away for their peaceful protest as they refused to move out of the way of bulldozers and drill workers.”
Other key developments in the last week include:
• Protester Shayne Hughes, who locked on to a bulldozer at the beginning of the blockade, was fined on July 4 but had no conviction recorded after the magistrate said he was obviously of good character.
• The Wilderness Society organised a well-attended lunchtime protest outside Woodside's Perth head office on July 5, and
• Broome resident Andrew Dureau has announced that he will complain to police and seek legal advice after he was injured by police and prevented from helping his 76-year old father who tripped in front of a bulldozer at the blockade site.
His father is frail and has a medical condition. He told The West Australian: “I went there to help him get up off the road, out of the way — then all the cops grabbed me and dragged me off ... all I wanted to do was help my father.”
Campaigners argued the effort and expense in breaking the blockade is misplaced.
“This development has no final investment decision, no federal environmental approval and is unnecessary.
“There are other, better, alternatives.
“The compulsory acquisition of land which was the ‘gun to the head’ for those Traditional Owners who have accepted payment to give up land is being challenged in court. A failure to get all required heritage clearances, and a breach of the one they did get, is currently under investigation.”
This campaign can be won and needs support today.