Stop the Kimberley land grab: renewables not gas


Woodside and the Western Australian government’s push to build a massive gas-processing plant at James Price Point will be a key battle in a broader campaign to protect the cultural and environmental heritage of the Kimberley region in WA.

This battle is significant for several reasons.

First, the government is trying to compulsorily acquire Aboriginal land. Traditional owners, some of who had previously been prepared to support the project, are now united in opposition. Many unions, including the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, are supporting them.

Second, it is the first of many proposed mining developments in the region. A port at James Price Point would boost these other projects and pave the way for more industrialisation of the Kimberley. The Kimberley would no longer be a relatively untouched wilderness.

Third, it means more greenhouse gas emissions. This project would emit 32 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year — 6% of Australian total emissions. A victory in this fight would help defeat other new gas projects in WA that collectively would emit more than 60 million tonnes a year. WA now emits 80 million tonnes a year.

These figures do not include burning the gas itself, which would mean more pollution. We have to oppose this development if we want a safe climate future for humanity.

In October, the state government announced a series of “conservation measures”.

Part of this is a draft for a new Camden Sound Marine Park, three new marine parks and reducing protection of the Prince Regent “A” Class Nature Reserve.

The Wilderness Society said on October 22: “Ninety-eight percent of the Kimberley’s marine and coastal environment will continue to be available for mining, oil and gas development and commercial fishing.

“This is because the new ‘marine parks’ will contain large areas that are available for mining, fishing and other extractive commercial activities.”

Conservation Council director Piers Verstegen said this “is like creating a national park on land where 90% of its area is left open to the logging industry…

“The premier’s overwhelming agenda for the Kimberley is one of industrial development, and that agenda is obvious from these announcements.”

The Kimberley region has many unique species. Marine and land ecosystems in the Kimberley have high conservation value and are comparatively unstudied. New species are still being discovered.

The area has breeding grounds for humpback whales. Only 13% of these would be fully protected under the state government plan. Dredging to build the gas hub would also damage this important ecosystem.

The James Price Point gas-processing hub is not the only way to extract the gas.

One alternative is a floating liquid natural gas plant. Shell is pursuing such a platform for the Prelude gas field that, like the James Price Point gas hub, would draw gas from the Browse Basin. Shell’s facility was approved on November 18 and it plans to start building it in 2011. A second option would be to pipe the gas to existing facilities in the Pilbara.

But neither of these options would reduce these projects’ greenhouse pollution. This, and stealing Aboriginal land, is why representatives of the Aboriginal Party, the Socialist Alliance and the Greens all said at an October 28 forum in Fremantle that they oppose the project.

Aboriginal activist Joseph Roe spoke to Green Left Weekly about the impact on Aboriginal culture.

He said: “[State premier] Colin Barnett is trying to kill and damage our spiritual connection to our country and our law; our culture and our heritage.”

Roe said there was no justice in sacrificing culture “for the sake of housing, employment, education, health and training”, which are the “birthright of every Australian”.

“I will fight to keep my law and country intact, whatever it takes. I will fight them all the way.”

Greens MP Robin Chapple said Woodside had a strong incentive to pursue the James Price Point option.

“[They] want to become a stand-alone oil company”, he said. “They’re not at the moment. All they are, is a manager of other people’s oil and gas.

“If they get to James Price Point, they become a new force in the oil and gas industry.”

This incentive does not apply to Woodside’s junior joint venture partners such as BHP and Shell. Paul McGeough said in the November 20 Sydney Morning Herald that this disunity could kill off the project.

McGeough said businessperson Geoff Cousins was running a corporate campaign to exploit this disunity.

But the campaigns by Aboriginal people, environmentalists and concerned citizens have the power to derail the project. A high-level corporate campaign needs grassroots actions like the 2000-strong rally in Broome on October 17 or the community rally planned in Cottesloe for November 28.

Socialist Alliance councillor Sam Wainwright said: “We need support from the unions to win this campaign.”

Wainwright, who is also a member of the Maritime Union of Australia, told GLW that the AMWU and other blue-collar unions are joining Aboriginal communities to oppose compulsory acquisition and need to be congratulated.

“Unfortunately, these unions, which are genuinely fighting to win good conditions for workers in the extraction industries, are generally at an early stage of thinking about issues such as climate change and, in particular, whether jobs like these should go ahead”, said Wainwright.

“However, there is a basis to win these unions to support for environmentally sustainable projects instead of polluting gas developments.

“When we come to build renewable wave power and offshore wind farms — and we should be starting now — it will be the same people currently working in the offshore oil and gas industry who will be the ones with the skills to do that work.”