Various groups and individuals have been campaigning for years to protect the Kimberley from industrial development and a gas plant for processing offshore gas fields.
The Western Australian Government (primarily Colin Barnett) is hellbent on opening it up to industry and developing the Kimberley in a similar way to the Pilbara.
There was a gas processing plant proposed for Walmadan (James Price Point). The WA State Government was the proponent of this proposed plant. This made the decision made by WA State Government departments highly questionable and seriously lacking impartiality.
The original ‘yes’ vote from the Goolarbooloo /Jabirr Jabirr Native Title meeting, in favour of building the precinct at James Price Point, was made under intense pressure – given that WA Premier Colin Barnett had already started the process of Compulsory Aquisition. In other words the Goolarabooloo/Jabbir Jabbir people were bribed by being told that if they voted against the gas plant they would not receive the compensation package and their land would be compulsorily acquired anyway. Despite this metaphoric ‘gun to their head’ 108 Aboriginal attendees that day voted ‘NO’ because despite the risk of losing promised benefits, they still wanted to see the area protected from industrialisation.
The corruption of this process was fought in the courts. There has since been a re-vote where the majority of people voted ‘no’. After the re-vote the State Government continued to move ahead with the project regardless.
Overview from Martin Pritchard (Director of Environs Kimberley):
“In a single-sentence to the Australian Stock Exchange on Friday, April 12 this year, Woodside and its joint venture partners announced that they would not be building gas refineries at James Price Point on the Kimberley coast.
Eight years after proposing the site, 50km north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula, and following a lengthy campaign against them, Woodside claimed that onshore refineries were not economically feasible. Had the gas refineries been built at James Price Point, they would have been the thin end of the wedge in industrialising the Kimberley. With all his threats, pleas and lobbying, the WA Premier, Colin Barnett, could not convince the Browse Joint Venturers or the Broome community that the site he had chosen was the best site for processing offshore gas. While Mr Barnett has left the door open for development at James Price Point, Woodside has made it clear they have no interest in the site.
This was a historic decision for the Kimberley. The region has been in industry’s sights for decades. In 2005 a report, Developing the West Kimberley’s Resources by the Department of Industry and Resources, was published as a mining blueprint for the region. A key element of the blueprint was a gas hub on the Kimberley coast to power mining and mineral processing industries.
Mr Barnett, a previous Minister for Resources Development and Energy, said in 2010, “Just as the Pilbara was critically important to the development of WA from the ‘60s, over the next 50 years the Kimberley will play a similar role…”. This mindset, and the blueprint, set the WA Government and industry on a collision course with the community. It was like the quest to protect the Franklin River from damming 30 years earlier.
The wrong place, the wrong people, the wrong community.
Mr. Barnett picked a fight with the wrong community. The campaign to protect James Price Point was driven by Broome people, an eclectic mix of black and white,
workers, tradies, doctors, teachers, lawyers, artists, writers, retirees, small business owners, social workers, nurses, labourers — people from all walks of life.
When residents learnt what was being proposed, they realised what they were about to lose and joined the campaign. As awareness of the plan spread, supporters from across the country mobilized. Groups of people at concerts and meetings eventually grew to 6,000 at a gathering in Melbourne, and 20,000 in Fremantle.
Dozens of arrests in Broome galvanized the community; the police’s Operation Archon spent over $1 million in taxpayer funds on the James Price Point protests, and actions escalated. Woodside’s private security firms could not operate covertly in Broome; protesters saw every move, then documented and publicized it through text messages and social media.
Delaying tactics by the community included blockades (including a month at ‘Black Tank’), mass submissions and actions in the courts. These actions cost the companies and government millions and shook shareholder and investor confidence. James Price Point is seen by multi-national miners as a benchmark for proposals in the Kimberley, a case study in project failure through lack of social licence.
This was a multi-faceted, organic campaign, fuelled by creativity, ingenuity and a fierce sense of independence and justice. It was driven locally, with national and international support. The significance of what has happened has yet to resonate across the nation, but you can be sure it’s resonating in board rooms across Australia and overseas. When a community stands up to protect itself against a bad proposal, it can win.”
~ Martin Pritchard
Martin Pritchard is the Director of Broome based environmental group Environs Kimberley http://www.facebook.com/environs.kimberley