Topsoil investigates the James Price Point liquid natural gas project in Western Australia.
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New Internationalist

Aboriginal resistence and flawed rhetoric in James Price Point

This article originally appeared as Something Gassy in the James Price Point case? on the Topsoil blog.

Western Australians have always been proud of their natural resources and mining industries. Criticize it, and you bare the wrath of not only the elitism of rich investors and industrialists, but pretty much 80 to 90 per cent of the population. Woodside is considered one of the pride. When meeting them in 2003, as one of the 40 of so school students attending the ‘Australian Student Mineral Venture’, we were told in loud volumes about how they employed Aborigines too… obviously the only tick box needed to be ethical, or so they thought.

Flemming Jo Jensen asks you to Save the Kimberley

But that’s not where Woodside’s interests lie. For the last week, 60 Aboriginal protesters from the Broome region have been taking part in a sit/lie in preventing bulldozers from destroying the unique James Price Point area for an Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Precinct. This, even before Tony Burke has made his decision on whether to go ahead with the LNG project or not. Of these, two protesters have already been arrested and WA police have sent in a special police troop to ‘deal’ with the peaceful protesters.

In comments to the press, they have highlighted their rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a charter that Australia endorsed in 2009, under a Labour government. Specifically, they highlight article 10 and 25, which state:

Article 10
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

Article 25
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

Although Woodside has received an official agreement for use for this land from the Goolarabooloo/Jabirr Jabirr peoples whose land this is, local people have been saying that their hand was pushed to accept the Aus$1.5 billion in benefits for the area. Furthermore, statements suggest that not all of the local indigenous peoples were allowed to vote before this decision was made – the decision seems to have been made by the Land Council, which local people say does not fairly represent them. If this is the case, article 1o stands.

Even if the vote would have been valid, the pressure placed on the group may have forced them to give in, especially considering their current circumstance. In Four Corners’ documentary assessing the proposal last year, Colin Barnett (WA’s Premier) stated:

‘I know people will see this interview and say, you know, he’s only after development, he doesn’t care about the environment, doesn’t care about the aborigines. Well, I’d say to people away from Western Australia, you go up there and look in the face of those little children and you tell them what you can offer them.’

If that’s not a clear suggestion on what the government thinks of Aboriginal People, nothing is. Barnett’s view of Aborigines is coloured by his patronising vision of them – which lead to a statement where he argued that should the Kimberley Land Council refuse to come to an agreement, he would force compulsory acquisition.

Has Barnett has forced the local peoples to accept an agreement to give up their lands with the threat of compulsory acquisition? Anyway, if Barnett is worried about Aboriginal poverty, why should a company have to destroy native land for Aboriginal People to receive benefits that they should be getting from the government? Why is the compensation not given to the Kimberley Land Council to decide how to use, instead of Woodside’s benefit handouts? And if the community was eager to accept these benefits from Woodside, why are there 60 odd people blocking the main road into the area?

Whatever the case, there is something uncomfortable here.

Without too much discussion on the role of environmentalists in renouncing those Aboriginal communities that were swayed by the proposal as not truly ‘native’ , there is a clear environmental case for not allowing the gas piping to go ahead; the least of which has been the latest Australian Heritage Council report that recommends that the James Price Point be placed under in a Natural Reserve.

Further Reading/Media

  • VIDEO: ABC’s Four Corners did a series on the Kimberley region that you can watch here.
  • Blog on Actions: http://pindanpost.com/
  • Open letter to Tony Burke (who is yet to decide whether the venture should continue or not). Note: State Labour has supported the decision to carry on the gas venture, despite environmental and social warnings against it.
  • ACTION: Petition on GetUp! suggestions.

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