Trusting Woodside is a fool’s game

The struggle over James Price Point in Western Australia is a key issue of our time. I visited there in late 2011 and reported about the forces against Woodside and the government to protect the pristine environment from destruction. The battle over natural resources will only increase during this century.

This recent piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by Jan Mayman has a good summary of the issues:

The planned LNG plant would process natural gas pumped up from the seabed at Browse Basin 400 kilometres away, and ship it out through a vast new port at James Price Point.

Bush clearing is well advanced at the 2500-hectare site, which was made available by the WA government, even though Woodside is not expected to announce a final decision about whether or not it will build the plant until the first half of next year. It also needs federal government approval to proceed.

Meanwhile, community opposition to the project is growing rapidly. A loose coalition of environmentalist groups has launched a national campaign to stop the project, supported by Aboriginal people desperate to protect sacred heritage sites and ancient graves.

WA Premier Colin Barnett had threatened to compulsorily acquire the land without compensation if Aboriginal Traditional Owners refused to sign contracts that cleared the way for work to begin at James Price Point.

The traditional owners’ representative body corporate, the Kimberley Land Council, signed a series of agreements with the government and Woodside last year, a deal that left many Broome people of all races shocked and angry.

Some Aboriginal leaders signed reluctantly, convinced it was their only way to a better life. They were promised benefits worth $1.5 billion over the next 30 years in the form of better housing, education, jobs and health care. “Why should we have to give up our land to get the kind of benefits all Australians are entitled to anyway?” says Dr Anne Poelina, an indigenous woman and deputy shire president of Broome, who was speaking as a private individual. (Mayor Graeme Campbell was out of town and unavailable for comment.)

Poelina belongs to one of numerous old Broome families strongly opposing the development at James Price Point, which Aborigines call Walmadan.”Why has the state government taken over such a big area of land from our local government to give to an international mining group?” she says.

“The mining industry is heavily supported by the government already, everything from diesel fuel subsidies to tax concessions. This is just more corporate welfare.”

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