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Why saving the Kimberley matters in NSW

April 16, 2012

Australia is in a race for gas, urged on by our state and federal governments. But from Broome to Sydney, a grassroots movement that includes indigenous people, environmentalists, city folk, farmers, social justice advocates, climate activists and climate sceptics are petitioning to stop the mining industry’s use and abuse of our land for short term profits. Citizens across Australia are telling the government to take notice: there is no social license for the damage from gas mining to our environment, heritage, water—and communities.

The Kimberley is an area twice the size of Victoria with some of the largest intact natural areas left on the planet. It also includes a marine environment that is significant for many threatened and endangered species such as sharks, dugong, coastal dolphins, turtles and whales.

Many indigenous tribes have claim to the land and Broome, a two and a half hour flight north of Perth, is the centre of the region’s thriving tourism industry. Yet the area is set to be industrialised on a vast scale.

At James Price Point, 60km north of Broome, resources giant Woodside has forty five billion dollar plans for a liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plant that will take 6000 workers six years to build and include a 5km x 5km slab of concrete. It would be the largest piece of non-government infrastructure ever created in Australia.

Ironically three of Woodside’s joint venture partners on the project—BP, Shell and Chevron—would prefer the project be relocated to the North West Shelf in the Pilbara where there is already existing infrastructure. But the Federal and WA governments are supporting the James Price Point site because the infrastructure that will need to be built for the LNG project (airport, port, roads, pipelines etc) will support the opening up of the entire region for mining and industrialization. This would potentially include bauxite mining on the Mitchell Plateau, large-scale irrigated agriculture in the Fitzroy valley and gas drilling in the Canning basin. This is all inherently unsustainable in this wilderness landscape.

In the new Energy Whitepaper from Resource Minister Martin Ferguson, gas is revealed as the Australia’s future. Yet as Dr Robert Merkel from Monash University recently wrote, there is a lack of proven ‘cleaner than gas’ credentials from Coal Seam Gas mining companies. Currently there are still no independent, publicly available studies of fugitive emissions for coal seam gas in Australia or anywhere else in the world. Until they present real data on fugitive emissions the social license of the CSG industry to operate as a less damaging alternative to coal is no better than conjecture.

A gas future is not a not going to help fight climate change and reduce greenhouse emissions and it is an opportunity cost for our clean energy future every time a new gas application is approved by government.

There is also a social justice issue about why governments are allowing mining companies to ‘buy’ the right to mine on Native Title lands with large offers to Aboriginal Land Councils of money for health and education. When did health and education stop being a basic citizenship right for Australians? Why should the health and education services available to Aboriginal people in the Kimberley be dependent on their acquiescence in the destruction of their land?

The Greens are taking action to support the fight against gas and the industrialisation of the Kimberley. But so must we all. As individuals, as no-one wants to wake up in twenty years when Broome has been Dubai’d and say, ‘How did we let that happen? Why did we destroy this environment and its culture? Was it really just for gas?’

Can’t eat coal. Can’t drink gas. Can say no.

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