Saturday, March 2, 2013

Kimberley rally forces response from Labor and Liberal

The campaign against the gas hub at Walmadan (James Price Point) in the Kimberley received a massive boost when around 20,000 people marched through the streets of Fremantle and attended a vibrant and political ``Concert for the Kimberley'' on February 24.

Headlined by high profile music acts like the John Butler Trio and Missy Higgins, the concert was the latest in a series of campaign events around the country spearheaded by the Wilderness Society and John Butler. The purpose of the campaign is to save the Kimberley environment and in particular to stop the proposed gas hub at James Price Point.

The gas hub is controversial because the state government has used compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land to get the site for the gas hub and because the environmental consequences of the development are enormous.

In addition, because there is major opposition from within the Broome community, one feature of the project is that a corporation (Woodside) and the state government are riding roughshod over local people.

There has been a lot of speculation in recent months that the costs imposed by community opposition and legal hurdles are making the project's proponents look towards other options including an offshore, floating gas hub.

The state government has decidedly rejected the proposition of a floating gas hub arguing that ``benefits'' to the Western Australian community (including an allocation of gas to the local gas market and the ``benefits package'' for local Aboriginal communities) would not be available in the event of an offshore development.

State premier Colin Barnett has forcefully said that, while there may be lower costs offshore, the project would still be profitable with a James Price Point gas hub and his government is not prepared to give approval to an offshore development.

This broader context means that environmentalists are increasingly confident that a victory on the gas hub campaign is possible. The size of the February 24 concert therefore has major significance.

Commenting on the rally, Wilderness Society WA co-ordinator said that ``the only two times in recent history that we've seen rallies of this size in Perth have been for the old growth forests and Ningaloo, and both campaigns went on to great success''.

While this doesn't account for the 2003 anti-war rallies and the mobilisations against WorkChoices it does indicate in stark relief the prospects for a victory in this campaign.

Hot on the heals of the Kimberley concert, the state government announced a massive new national park in the Kimberley and a significant extension to the planned Great Kimberley Marine Park. The new national park would be greater than Kakadu – currently Australia's largest.

The announcement by the government itself is very similar to plans announced by the ALP opposition on February 22.

While both promises have been rightly welcomed by environmentalists, they both ignore James Price Point. Both Barnett and and Labor opposition leader Mark McGowan have strongly insisted that the gas must be processed onshore. McGowan, however, has hinted that he may consider a different site to James Price Point.

The fact that both leaders are forced to respond to the campaign is another indication of its strength. So far, however, both McGowan and Barnett are siding with corporate interests against the community.

While it has not been a feature of the Wilderness Society campaign, one aspect of community interest is the question of whether the gas should be extracted at all?

Gas is after all a fossil fuel which will add more carbon pollution to the atmosphere if burnt. However, even mining the Browse Basin (the source of gas for the gas hub) is projected to release between 30-40 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year – almost half of WA's current emissions – before the gas even gets to be sold.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has raised this issue as has the Socialist Alliance which marched at the rally carrying signs for ``100% rewnewable energy'' and ``Renewables not gas''.

[This article by Alex Bainbridge was written for Green Left Weekly #956.]

Green Left TV on the Kimberley Concert and march

Photos by Alex Bainbridge