Selling off the Kimberley
Kimberley Community Profile Magazine
2008 Issue 2 (April) Editorial (extracts)
One of the magnificent aspects of the Kimberley is its pristine beauty, largely untouched by resource exploitation and industrial development. The air in the Kimberley is mostly clean, the waterways are largely unpolluted, and the forests, though too often ravaged by fire, usually give the appearance of being as they were before colonial times. It is still possible to explore a coastline or a National Park and experience it without the distractions of invasive crowds and the negative effects of urban living.
You may still today camp on a remote beach or sail an inviting estuary and enjoy it as it was when only Indigenous people lived there. So much of the remote Kimberley shoreline remains just as Philip Parker King, the explorer, first saw it when he circumnavigated the continent in 1821.
Unlike the coastline of the Queensland tropics in Eastern Australia, the Kimberley shores are not punctuated with glitzy resorts or ugly pretensions of wealth. There are no golf courses sprouting Bali motifs, no holiday villages packed with caravans, no burgeoning theme parks and no tacky shopping centres selling cheap tee–shirts and plastic crocodiles. Neither are there factories, industrial conglomerates or processing plants scarring the terrain or filling the sky with unwanted impurities.
Just when we were thinking how fortunate we are to have this northern seashore, the last untouched wilderness in Australia, original and pure, along comes a gas project… Future planning for the development of the Kimberley needs to begin at a point of departure consistent with principles of conservation, not exploitation. A question to ask is: What constitutes the greater human value – the country as a national treasure or the resource as a commodity to be exploited? And again we ask, is there an absolute necessity to exploit this pristine country or is there an alternative?
Fortunately, there are a few outposts of resistance, Indigenous and non Indigenous, that may well be able to coalesce in the coming months to lead an effective opposition… A brief look at the ugliness of development in the Pilbara region should be enough to make people stop and think about resource exploitation and development in the Kimberley. Such thoughts may lead them to conclude that the natural beauty of our region is worth preserving just as it is, for future generations. It is never too late to speak out. Perhaps commonsense will prevail. Great things can happen when good people stand up together for what is right.
Will the future bring a Kimberley with or without a major new industrial precinct?
ABC KIMBERLEY WA — 11 November 2008
Proponents of the gas hub claim employment and economic stimulation, while critics threaten negative social and environmental impacts.
Captain Vic Justice is the Broome Port CEO and harbourmaster and he sees the gas industry as a great plus for the region.
And if you want to see the benefits on offer, Vic says you only need to look as far as the Pilbara town of Karratha. Captain Justice says the introduction of LNG there increased the standard of living and employment.
He acknowledges that not all impacts are positive.
But Vic says the resources industry can't take all the blame for the high cost of living in Karratha. Housing prices are influenced by the building industry and the supply of housing, as well as the demand.
Any development in a regional setting creates pressures, but for Vic Justice the benefits outweigh the costs.
The Catholic Bishop of the Kimberley sees this issue differently, though he agrees with Captain Justice that people need to make informed and rational submissions to the decision making process.
For the Bishop, the wonderful thing about the Kimberley is that it is one of Australia's last places of pristine beauty. He says this is an extraordinary legacy that our generation has inherited, and he is concerned this will be sacrificed.
Bishop Saunders says that the regions greatest asset is the beauty of the Kimberley which God provided. And that real long term jobs will come through ecotourism.
Kimberley Land Council
MEDIA RELEASE 5th December 2008
Traditional Owners refuse to sign away heritage rights for gas compensation
The Kimberley Land Council today confirmed that Traditional Owners have refused to accept a mining company proposal to develop gas resources that required them to sign away their cultural heritage rights for the development site without even specifying the location.
KLC Executive Director Wayne Bergmann said that the proposal by Woodside Energy Ltd offered no equity participation and was one of the worst offered by a resource development company to Traditional Owners in Australia in recent history.
“Even though we have Premier Colin Barnett’s threat of compulsory acquisition hanging over our heads, Traditional Owners in the Kimberley have decided they cannot accept this proposal,” said Mr. Bergmann.
“Without even specifying where development would go, this proposal would have required Traditional Owners to agree there are no heritage issues on the final development site. “This is unacceptable to Traditional Owners who will not agree to sign away their heritage rights carte blanche.
“Beyond that, the terms of the proposal are so low that if they accepted it Traditional Owners would probably end up making less than if they had set aside the same amount of land for eco–tourism opportunities.
“Even though Premier Colin Barnett has threatened compulsory acquisition of people’s land and homes, Traditional Owners will not be bullied into accepting compensation deals that take us back to the dark ages.
“This is worse than the Burrup, this is back to the days of Noonkanbah.
“Traditional Owners support gas development but only if it offers ongoing economic participation while protecting cultural and environmental heritage.
“Government and companies stand to make hundreds of billions of dollars from gas resources off the Kimberley coastline.
“Traditional Owners deserve a decent stake in this development.”
I'll take West Australian native land: Barnett
Amanda O'Brien, WA political reporter
The Australian, December 11, 2008
West Australian Premier Colin Barnett has used a speech to 500 business leaders to reveal he will forcibly acquire land from Aboriginal people in the Kimberley to provide a site for a major gas–processing precinct.
Mr Barnett admitted the plan "may sound radical" but he said it was necessary. "If we don't do that there will be no LNG development in the Kimberley and there will be no benefits for the community, both indigenous communities and indeed the wider community," he said. "I will be doing everything I can to grab that opportunity for the state."
Kimberley Land Council executive director Wayne Bergman said the announcement was heavy–handed and objectionable and he was seeking legal advice. "We urge the Premier to work with Kimberley Aboriginal people to find a negotiated solution. We are committed to responsible development but heavy–handed approaches through compulsory acquisition will not provide any worthwhile benefits," he said. "It's no surprise that the most disadvantaged people are being put further under pressure for big business. It's been a consistent message from the Premier."
Mr Barnett told the business audience that his Government would be "unashamedly pro–development". It would be a theme in everything he did. He said provisions in the Public Works Act would be used to acquire the land so that private companies could build gas–processing plants near the giant Browse Basin gas reserve, which is estimated to hold at least 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. "We'll acquire it as government–owned land and we will lease it out to proponents, whether it is Woodside, Inpex or anyone else in the future," he said. "That may sound radical. I assure you it's not. That is the way that most industrial land in Western Australia has been acquired and operated." Compensation would be provided to the indigenous landowners.
Mr Barnett said the failure of the former government to find land in the area for Japanese company Inpex to build a gas plant was "the greatest embarrassment in this state's history" and that it would not occur under his watch. Inpex announced in October that it was moving its $15 billion project to Darwin, after years of negotiations in Western Australia with indigenous landwners and the Labor government failed to provide a site.