COMMENT: Hidden agenda behind Kimberley marine parks?

I’ve been following the marine parks debate with a mixture of emotions. They vary from cautious hope to apoplexy, which isn’t an emotion at all but the loss of bodily function due to cerebral hemorrhaging. But I feel apoplexy coming on every time someone tries to deny me my freedom to fish.

The cautious hope, however, comes from knowing our seas have become desperately depleted from overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction and there might, just might, be some truth in the notion that severe management procedures including marine parks and fish sanctuary zones will bring them back from the brink. At least that’s the objective. Isn’t it? Well, you’d hope so. But given what has just been announced for the Kimberley in Western Australia’s far north one would be forgiven for suspecting a sinister political agenda.

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Here in the state destined to become the world’s biggest quarry, we are run by a government who’d dig up grandma’s grave if there was a dollar in it. Right now this government is planning to do worse than desecrate graves as Liberal Premier Colin Barnett pushes to compulsorily acquire a very large chunk of pristine Kimberley coast and sacred aboriginal land and give it to oil and gas giant Woodside for them to build the biggest LNG refinery in the southern hemisphere – with plans for massive, exponential industrialisation of the Kimberley to follow.

Whitefellas know this place as James Price Point. To the blackfellas who hold it sacred it’s Walmadan. Whitefellas and blackfellas go there to fish and camp. The fishing and diving is sensational. Humpback whales migrate, feed, nurse their young and rest literally within a stone’s throw from shore. Turtles nest on the beaches. Dugong feed on sea grass. Ochre red cliffs plunge into the sea. In the vine thickets behind the cliffs the rare and endangered bilby fights off extinction.

Premier Barnett, having flown in to James Price Point by helicopter, and after spending just enough time there to get out of the chopper to pee, went on television that night and insultingly said James Price Point was “unremarkable” and that he intended to build a gas plant on it. To say there is an almighty gutter fight in progress in the tourist and pearling town of Broome, 40 kilometres south of James Price Point, because of Barnett is something of an understatement.

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Colin Barnett is the same bloke, who, as leader of the opposition back in 2005 went to the polls with the cockamamie idea that, if elected, he’d dig a 3000 kilometre long water canal from the Kimberley to Perth. That’s right, a canal. Civil engineers across the state scratched their heads and said ya gotta be kidding. Accountants across the state said ya gotta be nuts. Land owners and native title holders along its route said ya dreaming. Even Colin’s mum asked him if it was wise. But Colin wouldn’t budge and history has recorded that he sailed his water canal idea to political slaughter. Which, by rights should have been the end of him. But politics being what it is Barnett got up at the next election, and, still suffering the humiliation from his water canal idea, he wanted revenge. A massive industrial complex next to Broome is how he’d go about it. And the fight to save the Kimberley went ballistic.

It’s October 2010, pro gassers and no gassers are slugging it out on the ground and in court. Woodside jumps the gun and starts preliminary site works. Two thousand anti gas protesters march in the streets of Broome. Greens leader Senator Bob Brown joins the fight to save James Price Point. So does heavy weight campaigner Geoffrey Cousins fresh from victory in Tasmania’s native forests. The tide is turning. Woodside’s joint venture partners, BP, Shell, BHP and Chevron start having second thoughts about James Price Point giving voice to the bloodless alternative of processing the gas south in the already industrialized Pilbara. Barnett is copping a flogging in the press. Every blackfella in the Kimberley wants to spear him in the leg over his compulsory acquisition land grab. He needs a diversion. Marine Parks will do nicely.

At a location near Broome but safe from angry crowds, Barnett announces a marine parks plan for the Kimberley that covers an area of sea, coast and hinterland half the size of Tasmania. With insincere emotion he bungs on about how precious the Kimberley is, how it needs protection, how it’s wild and beautiful and rugged and ancient and pristine, how its marine bio diversity is second to no other on earth, how it’s rich in aboriginal heritage and culture. This from a bloke who’s falling over himself to obliterate all the above with heavy polluting industry.

But his big announcement was an instant flop. Environmentalists, conservation groups, recreational fishing reps, traditional owners and scientist slammed it as “paper parks” and a plan drawn with “crayon” and “all spin and no substance” and “a Ferrari with a lawnmower motor.” His smoke screen to divert attention away from his obsession to industrialise the Kimberley was as thin as the veneer covering the thing he’s dubbed the “great” Kimberley wilderness park. And a group of protesters who cornered him in Broome as he fled the Kimberley let him know that he wasn’t fooling any one.

Broome-based Robert “Bluey” Vaughan is a long-time Kimberley fishing guide who operates the famed One Tree beach fishing camp in the east Kimberley. He is heavily involved with the Save The Kimberley organisation. See www.savethekimberley.com for more details.



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