WESTERN AUSTRALIA: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Why WA will acquire land for Browse Basin gas project
, September 18, 2010
Protests by environmentalists and some Aboriginal people at the compulsory acquisition of land north of Broome for a natural-gas processing plant are misconceived.
|James Price Point: proposed LNG precinct |
in the West Kimberley, WA.
Contrary to repeated claims, the land being acquired is not
Aboriginal land. In fact, it is unallocated Crown land which has been the subject of Aboriginal claims which have not been resolved.
Development of the project has been supported by the Kimberley Land Council, the organisation representing Aboriginal people, but opposed by some local Aboriginal people with the support of environmentalists and the Greens.
The WA Government has been involved in negotiations with local Aboriginal people for years in an effort to resolve their ownership claims; but the process has been frustrated by divisions within the Aboriginal community. When it was proposed that a natural-gas processing facility be build in the area, these divisions prevented a satisfactory conclusion to negotiations.
The history of the project goes back to 2007, when Labor was in government in WA.
At that time, the West Australian Department of Industry and Resources commenced a study of possible sites for a gas-processing plant for the natural gas discovered in the Browse basin, off the WA coast. Among considerations were the environmental, economic and technical aspects of the proposal, as well as the impact on local Aboriginal communities.
Among customers who were interested in the project, PetroChina agreed to become a major customer, subject to negotiating a formal agreement.
Various sites were examined before a decision was made in December 2008, to build the plant at James Price Point, 60 km north of Broome. Negotiations then began between Woodside Petroleum, the WA state government, local Aboriginal people and the Kimberley Land Council to establish an indigenous land use agreement (ILUA), to protect the position of local people.
However, divisions in the Aboriginal community prevented an agreement. One result of the delays is that, last December, PetroChina pulled out of the agreement to buy gas, and it looked as if the project would be stillborn, and the larger Gorgon gas project would be developed instead.
However, the development authority - consisting of the state Liberal and federal Labor governments - gave the exploration partners, Woodside, Shell, Chevron, BHP-Billiton and BP, an ultimatum to develop the project or lose it.
In February, the joint partners announced that the development would go ahead, and that they would spend $2 billion in 2010 and 2011, to build infrastructure for the project, which is intended to export gas from around 2013.
In the meantime, negotiations with the Aboriginal representatives failed to reach agreement, because of divisions between local Aboriginal people and the Kimberley Land Council.
Deadlines for agreement were extended three times, in December 2009, March 2010 and June 2010, but in the face of continued division, the Barnett Liberal Government announced that it could not extend negotiations indefinitely.
The Premier, Colin Barnett, announced early this month that compulsory acquisition of the land "was necessary" because of divisions within the Aboriginal community. He said, "Developing gas from the Browse Basin is critical for the development of this state, this nation and its indigenous people. Economic independence and real opportunity is the best way towards self-determination for Aboriginal people and goes a long way towards reconciliation.
"In developing this resource, the Government will not compromise on environmental standards, good planning, high standards of safety or benefits to the Aboriginal community.
"Compulsory acquisition is a clearly defined process which involves negotiating in good faith with registered native title claimants over a six-month period. If an agreement cannot be reached, the state will refer the matter to the National Native Title Tribunal for arbitration, which takes another six months.
"The State Government would prefer to sign an ILUA based on consent, and I continue to encourage claimants to resolve the issues within their groups.
"If that is not possible, we will be aiming to achieve a negotiated outcome that is consistent with the Heads of Agreement signed by the Kimberley Land Council on behalf of the [Aboriginal] claimants in April 2009.
"The State Government and Woodside remain committed to delivering about $1.5 billion of social and economic benefits to local Aboriginal communities."
Mr Barnett concluded, "This is a project that has the potential to bring enormous benefits to Western Australia and especially to the Kimberley. The Kimberley has high levels of unemployment, limited work opportunities and issues of education, health and housing.
"This project provides a great chance to offer a substantial and permanent improvement to Aboriginal people and the wider Kimberley area."