Australia: gas hub threat

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A community tries to decide: protect aboriginal lands or choose $1.3 billion.

People in the town of Broome, in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia, do not agree about plans for a new gas hub. And this problem might grow into a national political problem.

It will be on James Price Point (JPP), a piece of land which extends into the Indian Ocean about 50 kilometres from Broome. The State government want to use it for a $40-billion gas hub, to make natural gas from offshore fields (in the sea) into liquid.

Now they are investigating. People say the Western Australian government and the most important supporter of the plans – Woodside Petroleum, in Perth – are not respecting the state’s laws to protect indigenous heritage.

It is complicated. Other people say that the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) – a group of Aboriginal people in that area – has worked with Woodside and the state against the indigenous people.

One of the main people who is against the gas hub is Robin Chapple, of the Green Party. He got reports that the state had chosen Joseph Roe (in the picture), who is the Law Boss for the Goolarabooloo people, as the expert to speak about the land, a long time before the gas hub plans started. Roe knows all about the religious and cultural traditions of the JPP, and he is responsible for keeping the traditions.


Talhy Stotzer/AAP/Press Association Images

The state also knew that Roe and the other law bosses met in 2005 and decided that the area was too sensitive for new buildings like the gas hub.

After that, the KLC and Roe went in different directions. The KLC still supports the plans for the gas hub; but Roe and other people do not agree to it.

Also, there is an area for humpback whales near the planned gas hub; and fossils of dinosaur footprints on the beach. So many activists do not agree.

But it’s not simple. If the KLC says they can build the gas hub, they will get $1.3 billion in compensation. This money will be very good to help with high unemployment, suicide in young people, and a low life expectancy (16 years lower, on average, than non-indigenous Australians).

Chapple is afraid that if they do not fight these plans, then the state will be free to develop other things: copper, bauxite, uranium and coal mines. He says that fighting the JPP gas hub is extremely important, or the whole area could become industrialized.

The final decision will be made before the middle of 2012.

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