Save the Kimberley campaign heats up

Opposition to a controversial development in Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region is intensifying.

According to a Sydney Morning Herald report this week a campaign to block the $30 billion liquefied natural gas development has ramped up with Federal MPs to be sent a booklet outlining the reasons the gas plant should be built elsewhere.

Former Federal Court judge, Murray Wilcox, QC, who has written the material for the Save the Kimberley campaign, said the Rudd government risked being labelled ”hypocrites” if it forced the development on traditional owners two years after its apology to the stolen generations.

A week after he was made an officer of the Order of Australia, Wilcox warned the government that it was presiding over a ”deeply divisive” project and called on Woodside and its joint venture partners – BHP Billiton, BP, Shell and Chevron – to build the plant at Karratha or consider other options.

”I have been around these sorts of controversies over a long period and I have never come across a case where the pros and cons are overwhelmingly in one direction,” he said.

While Woodside is pushing for the greenfields site at James Price Point in the Kimberley, BHP and Shell are said to prefer Karratha. The federal government has given the developers until early April to decide but the Kimberley is considered the most likely.

Complicating the proposal is a split between traditional owners. Some have criticised an in-principle agreement struck with the Kimberley Land Council in April that would give them more than $1 billion in compensation over 30 years. A splinter group has vowed to challenge any official approval from the council.

Wayne Bergmann, chairman of the council, lashed out at ”environmental do-gooders” who he said were ”threatening the chance for Kimberley Aborigines to improve their living conditions”.

”The splinter environmental groups are disingenuous because they come with no promises,” he said. ”Their position is not about progressing our well-being but creating museum pieces of landscape absent of Aboriginal people.

”I am calling on all Aboriginal people like Noel Pearson and Galarrwuy Yunupingu to reassess what value they place on environmental groups.”

In related news, professional fishermen from the Kimberley are awaiting a response to liability over an oil spill that occurred in the region last year. The region’s commercial fishermen have begun legal action over the Montara oil spill but say they have yet to receive a response from the company responsible. 

The Montara well, owned by the Thailand-based company PTTEP Australasia, leaked oil and gas into the Timor Sea for more than 10 weeks last year.

Oil from the leak was found less than 100 kilometres from Australia’s north coast.

Lawyers representing the Kimberley Professional Fishermen’s Association have asked the company to accept liability for any long-term damage to fish stocks.

The association’s Bob Masters says it is still waiting for a response.

“We’ve had no response from PTTEP Australasia and I suppose that’s reasonable as there is an inquiry in progress, and I believe that inquiry is winding up and then there should be results,” he said.

For more on the fight to save the Kimberley go to:

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