Wednesday, January 9th, 2013
Greens Candidate Chris Maher says the proposed Kimberley gas hub is the central election issue this year.
“But the election will be about more than just the gas hub; it will be about a vision for the future of the Kimberley,” Mr Maher said.
You can read his statement here:
The Kimberley: A Green Future?
The Greens Candidate for the Kimberley.
8 January 2013
The central issue for the Kimberley in this year’s WA State Election is the proposed LNG processing factory at James Price Point, just north of Broome. But the election will be about more than just the gas hub; it will be about a vision for the future of the Kimberley. In this election there are four parties vying for the seat: Liberal, Labor, National and Greens. Only the Greens oppose the on-shore gas factory proposal at James Price Point. The Greens advocate responsible economic development that will not undermine the Kimberley’s cultural and environmental richness. And this is why I have put my hand up to be the Greens candidate for the seat of Kimberley.
To say that the March 9 election is important for the Kimberley is an understatement. We are facing what may well be the transformation of our region. If the on-shore LNG project at James Price Point gets the go-ahead, which may happen within weeks of the state election, this region is heading for an industrial development future similar to what the Pilbara has experienced over the past few decades. Despite recent commentary suggesting that the gas hub may be doomed by commercial factors and that piping the Browse Basin gas to a production point in the Pilbara or using new floating technology would be cheaper, people should not be fooled into complacency. Woodside, as the lead proponent, is committed to building this factory and associated port facility and has strong backing from the State and Federal Governments.
We must not be hoodwinked into accepting the Premier’s disingenuous claim that the James Price Point industrial precinct will affect only a small fraction of the Kimberley’s natural environment. Barnett knows, but dares not say, that a substantial port built north of Broome would open the floodgates for resource development throughout the region. While Woodside is required to dismantle its gas processing facility at the end of its 30-year lease, there is no such requirement or plan to remove the deepwater harbour that would be constructed there.
Do people seriously believe that Buru Energy, Mitsubishi and Conoco Phillips and other companies that have discovered huge reserves of unconventional gas in the vast Canning Basin, to be extracted through fracking, will not use this port to ship their gas? A network of pipes crisscrossing the desert and Fitzroy Valley and heading to Broome can readily be imagined. And then there is Rio Tinto and Alcoa’s huge bauxite reserve on the Mitchell Plateau, waiting for decades for a Kimberley port to be built. More recently, coal has been found in the Fitzroy Valley and an export shipping facility heightens the prospect of this resource being developed.
Premier Barnett, supported by the National and Labor Parties, has described the Traditional Owners’ decision to support the gas development as the greatest act of Indigenous self-determination in Australia’s history. Since 1788 Aboriginal people have been systematically dispossessed of their traditional lands throughout Australia. Much of that dispossession was aggressive and bloody. It took more than two centuries for Australia to finally recognise at law the rights of Indigenous people through Native Title in 1992. The Barnett/Grylls government’s act of Compulsory Acquisition just 19 years later is simply another episode in the dispossession of Aboriginal people. Compulsory acquisition can never promote nor lead to self-determination. By no measure was the James Price Point Native Title Agreement made with ‘free, prior and informed consent’, consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Indigenous benefits package from the James Price Point Native Title Agreement should be carefully scrutinised. One and a half billion dollars may sounds a lot, but over 30 years it amounts to just 50 million a year to pay mainly for citizenship entitlements.
The Greens say that it is morally wrong to use Compulsory Acquisition to pressure native title holders to trade their country for services and benefits that are entitlements of citizenship. Funding for Indigenous development and sustainability should be provided from the immense revenue governments collect through resource development, regardless of where Indigenous people live. This funding should not be seen as welfare. It is a long-term investment that can enable Indigenous people to have a viable future living on their Country.
While the Greens will campaign on a number of issues in this election, it is the proposed Browse LNG project that must hold centre stage because so much of the Kimberley’s future rides on this single mega-development. The Greens’ stand on James Price Point is not just about saying No! The Greens tell a different and far more promising story about the future of the Kimberley.
The manner in which the major parties plan to force their plans upon us is evident in the environmental and planning processes that led to the Liberal–National State Government’s approval for the JPP project, supported by the Labor Party. The record number of serious objections under the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Act was largely ignored by the EPA, the supposedly independent environmental watchdog for the State. We still have no idea about the effect of this project on the groundwater that underlies Broome. We still don’t know whether this thirsty factory, which will freeze gas to liquid form, will require a desalination plant to be built. Questions, supported by evidence, raised by objectors about the potential destruction of marine and terrestrial plants and animals have not been satisfactorily answered. Questions about air pollution and the potential for catastrophic spillages into the ocean have been ignored.
Questions about social impact were not even considered by the EPA, despite the terms of reference of the Commonwealth and State government’s Strategic Assessment. Instead, the State Government has proposed a myriad committees controlled by political power in Perth to attempt to mitigate the social impacts of the JPP project.
The whole environmental investigative and approval process concerning JPP has been a sham. The final recommendation for approval of the project was made by the EPA Chairman acting alone, after the four other members removed themselves from the decision-making because all of them had a conflict of interest. Modern civil society must be underpinned by the integrity of institutions established by law to safeguard our natural environment and the workings of our society. It is clear that the environmental assessment surrounding the biggest industrial development ever planned for Western Australia has been a side show – a charade – and was never intended to counter a predetermined decision to build this monstrous factory and port on the Kimberley coast.
The JPP assessment process is not yet complete. It still needs final approval under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. It is highly unlikely that the Federal Environment Minister will veto the project, although he may set additional conditions.
So intent is the Barnett Government on building this gas factory that it has changed the planning law to sidestep local planning decision-making. Development Assessment Panels, with a government-appointed majority, have been assembled to rubber-stamp government planning requirements. The DAP has already been used to give Woodside retrospective approval for its work at JPP. A further disempowering instrument being implemented by the state is a Special Improvement Plan, which will centralise all planning decisions within the government’s State Planning Commission.
The Australia Institute, in an independent analysis, points out that the WA Government’s own Social Impact Assessment found that the proposed JPP Development is likely to:
• Be a net cost to the taxpayers of WA, the government spending more money supporting it than it will collect in state taxes
• Rely on up to 97 per cent fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers and employ very few local workers
• Harm the Kimberley’s reputation as a world-class tourism destination • Place additional demand on already stretched community services such as health and police • Cause inflation in the Broome area.1
This analysis indicates that the James Price Point development is not the end goal of the Barnett/Grylls obsession; that goal is the industrialisation of the Kimberley.
So, what has the proposed development delivered for Broome so far? Until recently, Broome was a harmonious community. Now, the town is deep in conflict. People have lost jobs for taking a public position on the development; others have lost lifelong friendships. Families have been divided, as has the Indigenous community. The Barnett/Grylls obsession with this project has wreaked havoc upon Broome, the largest town in the Kimberley. Smaller towns and communities in the region would be less able to withstand such an onslaught.
The Greens want environmental and planning assessment processes that have integrity and are driven by and inclusive of community interests. We champion processes that properly assess the evidence of environmental and social impacts for any development proposal. And when the evidence tells us that the harms outweigh the benefits then the proposed development should not proceed. The Greens say that corporations that propose major projects in the Kimberley must gain a social and environmental licence to operate, in accordance with international standards. Woodside does not have such a licence to operate at JPP.
When the Final Investment Decision is made on the JPP project in the next few months by Woodside and its joint venture partners, commercial factors will be critical, but politics will also play an important part. A significant vote for the Greens by Kimberley people in this election will be noted by the Browse joint venture partners, who have international brands to protect. The outgoing member for the Kimberley made a high profile speech in State Parliament a few weeks ago, where she labelled people who oppose the JPP project as ‘mung beans’, comprising a small minority of Kimberley residents. This assessment is wrong. Over recent months I have talked to hundreds of people from all walks of life throughout the Kimberley, and the vast majority tell me that they are opposed to this project and opposed to the vision the major parties have for an industrialised Kimberley. This election is an opportunity for the voices of Kimberley people to be heard.
Let us imagine for a moment the abrupt impact on Broome and surrounding communities if the joint venture’s Final Investment Decision is to go ahead. A Temporary Off-site Workers’ Camp (TOWC) will immediately be built in or close to Broome. The TOWC will house some 800 workers, whose job will be to construct the gas hub workers’ village at JPP, which, in turn, will house between 6000 and 8000 people, who will build the gas factory and port. At the same time, Woodside will build some 240 houses in Broome North for the company’s permanent staff. In the 2010/2011 financial year only 136 new residential dwellings were approved in Broome. Woodside’s needs would overwhelm the capacity of Broome’s building industry. Traffic through Broome airport will multiply, and hundreds of vehicles every day will travel up the Cape Leveque Road and along a new, sealed road to JPP. The boom-time impact on house and construction prices will mimic the Pilbara experience. And the protests and police interventions will make previous protests seem like a picnic.
If people think that the JPP project will only affect Broome and the Dampier Peninsula, think again. It will affect the whole region. It already has. Over the past three months I have visited more than 50 Aboriginal communities throughout the Kimberley and have been appalled by the decaying infrastructure and sense of loss of community control. The Commonwealth and State Governments have a defunding agenda, intended to move Aboriginal people from smaller communities into larger ‘hub communities’ and Kimberley towns. Broome is now experiencing this regional population movement, with all its social consequences.
The Community Employment Development Program (CDEP), which for the past 20 years has given many communities their economic foundation, is closing down this year, to be replaced by a new ‘job network’ scheme. This policy is to ‘transition’ Aboriginal people into mainstream work: jobs in the so-called ‘real economy’. And what is that ‘real economy’? It is the James Price Point gas hub and the regional industrial future that will flow from it.
What we are seeing is tragic public policy failure being played out in the Kimberley. Governments are seemingly blind to the possibility of a different future for the Kimberley. This is a region with abundant untapped non-mineral wealth. The people sharing this astonishing land and seascape are natural entrepreneurs. In the 21 years that I have lived in the Kimberley I have witnessed an extraordinary growth in tourism and its spinoffs for local businesses, the arts industry, aquaculture and horticulture, Aboriginal environmental management and the beginnings of the carbon abatement industry. Then there is the unlimited potential of the new and emerging industries such as renewable energy generation and IT development. This is where the future of the Kimberley lies, and this is where public and private investment should be directed. What the region needs is investment in tomorrow’s, not yesterday’s industries.
The stated goal of the Royalties for Regions program is to ‘build strong and vibrant regional communities that are desirable places to live’. However, over the past four years, $80 million of RFR has been allocated to an Exploration Incentive Scheme, subsidising mineral resource exploration in WA. This includes just over $1million for uranium exploration. Not by any stretch of the imagination could uranium exploration result in a ‘vibrant regional community that is a desirable place to live’. The Greens argue that public investment policies should be remodelled so that funding is aligned to community needs and aspirations. With more effective regional governance and accountability there can be vastly improved outcomes. Royalty for Regions was originally a Greens policy commitment to return wealth to regions such as the Kimberley. We remain committed to this policy and will push for revenue to be spent locally and wisely, not wasted subsidising mining exploration.
The greens support a future for the Kimberley that protects our environmental and cultural economic assets, not an industrial wasteland that will destroy one of the great regions of the earth.
1 (The media release ‘James Price Point LNG project will cost jobs and drive up cost of living for local communities: new analysis’, 8 August 2012 can be found at https://www.tai.org.au)
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