The central issue for the Kimberley in this year’s WA State Election is the proposed LNG processing factory at James Price Point, just north of Broome. But the election will be about more than just the gas hub; it will be about a vision for the future of the Kimberley. In this election there are four parties vying for the seat: Liberal, Labor, National and Greens. Only the Greens oppose the on-shore gas factory proposal at James Price Point. The Greens advocate responsible economic development that will not undermine the Kimberley’s cultural and environmental richness. And this is why I have put my hand up to be the Greens candidate for the seat of Kimberley.
To say that the March 9 election is important for the Kimberley is an understatement. We are facing what may well be the transformation of our region. If the on-shore LNG project at James Price Point gets the go-ahead, which may happen within weeks of the state election, this region is heading for an industrial future similar to what the Pilbara has experienced over the past few decades. Despite recent commentary suggesting that the gas hub may be doomed by commercial factors and that piping the Browse Basin gas to a production point in the Pilbara or using new floating technology would be cheaper, people should not be fooled into complacency. Woodside is committed to building this factory and associated port facility and has strong backing from the State and Federal Governments.
We must not be hoodwinked into accepting the Premier’s disingenuous claim that the James Price Point industrial precinct will affect only a fraction of the Kimberley’s natural environment. Barnett knows, but dares not say, that a substantial port built north of Broome would open the floodgates for resource development throughout the region. While Woodside is required to dismantle its gas processing facility at the end of its 30-year lease, there is no such requirement or plan to remove the deepwater harbour that would be constructed there.
Do people seriously believe that Buru Energy, Mitsubishi and Conoco Phillips and other companies that have discovered huge reserves of unconventional gas in the vast Canning Basin, to be extracted through fracking, will not use this port to ship their gas? A network of pipes crisscrossing the desert and Fitzroy Valley and heading to Broome can readily be imagined. Rio Tinto and Alcoa’s huge bauxite reserve on the Mitchell Plateau has been waiting for decades for a Kimberley port to be built. Mining companies are interested in exploiting the brown coal reserves in the Fitzroy Valley and an export shipping facility heightens the prospect of this resource being developed.
While the Greens will campaign on a number of issues in this election, the proposed Browse LNG project must hold centre stage because so much of the Kimberley’s future rides on this single mega-development. The Greens’ stand on James Price Point is not just about saying No! The Greens tell a different and far more promising story about the future of the Kimberley.
The manner in which the major parties are forcing their plans upon us is evident in the environmental and planning processes that led to the Liberal–National State Government’s approval for the JPP project, supported by the Labor Party. The record number of serious objections under the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Act was largely ignored by the EPA, the supposedly independent environmental watchdog for the State. We still have no idea about the effect of this project on the groundwater that underlies Broome. We still don’t know whether this thirsty factory, which will freeze gas to liquid form, will require a desalination plant to be built. Questions, supported by evidence, raised by objectors about the potential destruction of marine and terrestrial plants and animals have not been satisfactorily answered. Questions about air pollution and the potential for catastrophic spillages into the ocean have been ignored.
Questions about social impact were not even considered by the EPA, despite the terms of reference of the Commonwealth and State government’s Strategic Assessment. Instead, the State Government wants to set up a myriad of committees controlled by political power in Perth to attempt to mitigate the social impacts of the JPP project.
The whole environmental investigative and approval process concerning JPP has been a sham. The final recommendation for approval of the project was made by the EPA Chairman acting alone, after the four other members were stood aside from the decision-making because all of them had a conflict of interest. Modern civil society must be underpinned by the integrity of institutions established by law to safeguard our natural environment and the workings of our society. It is clear that the environmental assessment surrounding the biggest industrial development ever planned for Western Australia has been a side show – a charade – and was never intended to counter a predetermined decision to build this monstrous factory and port on the Kimberley coast.
The JPP assessment process is not yet complete. The project still needs final approval under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. It is highly unlikely that the Federal Environment Minister will veto the project, although he may set further conditions.
So intent is the Barnett Government on building this gas factory that it has changed the planning law to sidestep local planning decision-making. Development Assessment Panels, with a government-appointed majority, have been assembled to rubber-stamp government planning requirements. The DAP has already been used to give Woodside retrospective approval for its work at JPP. A further disempowering instrument devised by the state is a Special Improvement Plan, which will centralise all planning decisions within the government’s State Planning Commission.
The Australia Institute, in an independent analysis, points out that the WA Government’s own Social Impact Assessment found that the proposed JPP Development is likely to:
• Be a net cost to the taxpayers of WA, the government spending more money supporting it than it will collect in state taxes