Monday, March 18, 2013

Broome votes against gas hub

Campaigners against the planned Woodside gas hub at James Price Point in the Kimberley believe the Greens’ opposition to the proposal was the reason for their success in the Kimberley seat.

They say it has proven the Broome community does not want the Western Australian Liberals' and Woodside's gas hub at James Price Point.

Greens candidate Chris Maher won 38% of the primary vote, a swing of 10.3% and the highest vote for the Greens in the Kimberley seat. He polled first in three out of four voting booths in Broome and second in the other.

A strong community campaign against the gas hub has been built up over recent years through big and non-violent direct actions against the plan.

Many commentators in the mainstream media have painted a picture that the combined vote of the Labor, National and Liberal parties being larger than the Greens shows that most people want the gas hub.

Broome Community No Gas group member Jan Lewis said this was wrong. “The Liberals are the only ones really pushing the project ... they were the people we needed to beat and I think we should rejoice because we did beat them.”

The Greens received 1557 votes, compared with the Liberals’ 1205.

The National and Labor parties did not take a strong stand in the election on the gas hub. An Environs Kimberley report into the policies of both parties shows they support the gas hub.

National party candidate Michele Pucci campaigned almost exclusively around the “royalties for regions” policy and showed slight reservations to the gas hub.

She said more needs to be done to address the social impacts of the gas hub.

Labor party candidate Josie Farrer tried to avoid the issue completely. She went so far as to pull out of a “meet the candidates” forum hosted by the ABC in the final week of the election.

In an apparent effort to distract voters from Labor’s support for the gas hub, the party put up signs at polling booths advertising its policy for a Kimberley marine park. The map for the proposed marine park misses all mining area proposals, leases and exploration sites in the Kimberley, including unconventional gas fracking and coalmining in the Fitzroy region as well as the gas hub.

Some people might see the No Gas campaign as an extension of the Greens. But Lewis says the campaign was “not a political party”.

“Really we’re a single issue lobby group.”

Lewis said that during the election campaign, the No Gas group decided “to try and attract some people who wouldn't be traditional Greens voters, to think this was the most important issue in their life and they ought to review who they normally voted for”.

The big swing to the Greens, compared with a statewide swing against them, suggests many people voted for the Greens to protest against the gas hub.

Lewis said a poor vote across the state may be because: “The fracking issue has come so late in the piece.”

Fracking has only recently gained attention in the Kimberley. Fewer people outside Broome know of the effects of fracking, and the challenge for the campaign now is to spread this awareness further to raise the number of opponents of the gas hub.

Campaigning across the entire Kimberley electorate is difficult with an area of 419,078 square kilometres — larger than Germany. Many small communities are remote and hard to access, particularly during the wet season. Getting the message out to more people in the region would take serious resources.

The Liberals invested a huge amount of money in its campaign. It bought wrap-around covers for regional WA newspapers to plaster with advertisements designed to look like news articles. TV ads and billboards were also big campaigning measures.

The No Gas group is run entirely by volunteers. It meets outside to avoid paying money for a room, raises all its finances from donations and relies on members to put promotional banners outside their houses.

The fact that the Greens got a higher vote than the Liberals in the Broome booths and come close across the Kimberley region is a testament to the power of the community campaign against the resources of the mining corporations and the Liberal party.

With the election over, the campaign is now pressuring federal environment minister Tony Burke to not give approval for the project and is preparing to defend sacred Aboriginal burial grounds.

[This article by Zeb Parkes was written for Green Left Weekly #957 published on 16 March 2013.]