At What Price?

Published: May 9, 2011

The battle to build a super gas hub at the idyllic James Price camping spot north of Broome has moved one giant step closer towards a conclusion … and there is no surprise that the ‘victory’ looks like going to those who want it built.

In a major slap in the face to environmentalists Kimberley Aborigines have given the go-ahead to Woodside’s $30 billion Browse Basin gas project. In return for relinquishing their native title interests in the land, the traditional owners will now receive more than $1.5 billion in benefits such as business opportunities, housing, education and funds to address social issues.

Woodside said the vote removed one of the key barriers to taking a final decision by mid-next year, assuming that the federal government granted it environmental approval.

WA Premier, Colin Barnett said the “historic agreement” would ensure Western Australia and the Kimberley benefited from the enormous gas resources in the Browse Basin and he congratulated the Goolarabooloo Jabbir Jabbir native title claim group and the Kimberley Land Council.

The Premier had been threatening to compulsory acquire the land to ensure the project went ahead

Mr Barnett said once Woodside was finished with the land, the site would be rehabilitated and returned as freehold land to the Aboriginal people. However, he said, because it was a long-term project, that was not expected to happen for 50 to 100 years.

Environs Kimberley chief Martin Pritchard said there was still enormous opposition among Aborigines and the wider community. “It’s not popular and there’s still a long way to go,” he said. “It still needs approval by the federal Environment Minister and this is a critical habitat for endangered humpback whales, on top of everything else.”

If it is eventually built the liquefied natural gas hub will of course have a huge impact, not just on James Price Point but on the whole area which will change in character completely. The section north of Broome has long been a favourite with grey nomads seeking adventure and top fishing at spots such as Quondong Point, Beagle Bay and the stunning Case Leveque.

I guess ‘progress’ always has a price but this is a very heavy one indeed.

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