WA gas hub fight heats up

The fight to stop a gas hub at James Price Point in the Kimberley is stepping up despite police attacking protesters. The $30 billion project by Woodside would destroy Aboriginal sacred sites including ancient burial grounds. Traditional owners of the land have blockaded the site along with environmentalists, leading to a seven-week stand-off with police.

The police made 25 arrests on July 5 while forcibly dismantling the picket, injuring protesters. One protester tied himself to a contractor’s bulldozer and had to be cut free by police. One man was beaten and injured by police when he went to assist his 80-year-old father, who had been struck and wrestled to the ground by four officers.

Local support

The campaign to stop the gas plant has strong support from the population of Broome. At Cable Beach on July 17, 7000 people, almost a quarter of the population of Broome, rallied against the gas plant. Prominent musicians such as John Butler, Missy Higgins and Xavier Rudd have thrown their support behind the campaign. Despite attracting criticism from the corporate media for having an opinion on the issue, John Butler has been outspoken and articulate, telling a rally:

“We need to ask ourselves a simple question: would we mine Kakadu or Uluru? Would we erect an oil rig in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef? If the answer is ‘No’, then how could we allow these cowboys to even propose such an atrocious attack on land and culture in the name of ‘progress’ at James Price Point? [WA Premier Colin] Barnett, Woodside and their mates are, sadly, so out of touch with what’s really important to the Australian public that they think taking this sacred land without permission and building a big, smelly, toxic industrial precinct on it is a good idea. I think it’s time for a big wake-up call.”

Bulldozers are already clearing the site for the gas plant. The company is allowed to clear 25 hectares of vegetation before final approval for the project is given or withheld.

The hub would see up to 2700 shipping tankers traverse a humpback whale calving ground each year. Thirty-nine million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions will be produced annually. Twenty-one million cubic metres of sea bed will be dredged, smothering large areas of marine habitat; the dredging will be repeated over the 30-50 year life of the project. The area is a habitat for threatened species including dugongs, snubfin dolphins and sea turtles. Eight billion litres of fresh water will be used per year. There will be continuous pollution of the pristine marine environment and air through waste water discharges and toxic emissions.

Despite the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) signing an agreement with Woodside on June 30, Aboriginal traditional owners remain firm and determined in their opposition to the gas hub. According to a Save the Kimberley campaign statement, “The agreements are invalid because they are based on an invalid notice of compulsory acquisition of land, this notice is subject to legal challenge. Morally and factually consider the presentation of this proposition to a selected portion of a community. Give up your land to polluting industry and we will give you money, education and healthcare, or…we will take it anyway and you will get nothing”.

Federal government role

Those protesting refuse to be deterred by the threat of being carted away by the police. Some have been demonstrating for many months now and say they’re prepared to fight until the very end. However, some have illusions that the federal ALP government will stop the project. According to Lyndon Schneiders from the Wilderness Society, “Woodside should not be here. They do not have the final approvals in place. There is every likelihood the government will not back this project.”

If the federal government does give the gas hub its approval, building is expected to begin in 2012. Woodside and its joint venture partners - Shell, BP, BHPB and Chevron - claim they have still to make a final investment decision on the project. If that is so, why are they already clearing the land? As far as Woodside is concerned, it’s business as usual and it is still hell-bent on the environmental vandalism it is notorious for. Given how the ALP normally acquiesces in the demands of the mining giants, it is unlikely this project will be stopped without significant mass protests and black bans placed by the unions representing workers engaged in its construction and operation.