WA gov’t seizes Aboriginal land

Issue 
Photo: Perth.indymedia.org

On September 2, Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett began the takeover of land at James Price Point in the Kimberley so the company Woodside can build a gas-processing hub.

Barnett claims this is necessary, after two years of negotiating with the local Aboriginal community and the Kimberley Land Council (KLC). He said any further delays in the project will lose $30 billion after the $15 billion taxpayers have already spent.

Barnett said in the September 3 West Australian: “I have a responsibility to ensure that major investment projects such as liquefied natural gas are not lost to this State, not only the investment but literally the hundreds of jobs that they create for decades to come.”

This move has sparked opposition from local Aboriginal groups, the KLC, the Wilderness Society and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).

KLC chief executive Wayne Bergman said the decision was a betrayal of local Aboriginal people and senior representatives of the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr people are making a native title claim over the land.

On September 3, AMWU state secretary Steve McCartney opposed the compulsory acquisition and called on the government to negotiate with the local Aboriginal people and the KLC in good faith. He said that, until such an agreement was, reached the AMWU would not support the project.

The AMWU will convene a meeting of fellow construction unions and the KLC in coming weeks to discuss how the union movement will support the traditional owners in the Kimberley. “We will not stand idly by while the state government steals this land from its rightful owners”, McCartney said.

“The AMWU will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Kimberley indigenous people to ensure the gas hub delivers good, secure and safe jobs and greater employment and training opportunities for all people.”

The proposed development was also criticised by Michael Hughes of the Curtin Sustainable Tourism Centre. A recently released Kimberley Whale Coast Tourism report released last week concluded that that “industrial development, particularly Woodside’s planned James Price Point gas hub, would create visual, air and noise pollution”.

Alex Bainbridge from the Socialist Alliance told Green Left Weekly: “Stealing Aboriginal land is an injustice that should never be tolerated. The injustice is compounded by using the stolen land to create a mammoth greenhouse polluting development — that is a crime against everyone.

“The new and proposed gas developments in north west WA are the major contributors to the expected 75% increase in greenhouse emissions in this state.”

In Broome, the decision sparked a spontaneous street protest. Peter Tucker, chairman of the Save the Kimberley group, said in the September 3 West Australian: “It’s obviously going to galvanise the community … from what I’ve been hearing round the traps in the last 24 hours most people are disgusted, absolutely disgusted that Barnett can come out and do and say what he is doing.”

[To find out more about the Save the Kimberley group, email info@savetheKimberley.com.]