Saturday, October 23, 2010

Civil society organisations lead the fight against the "industrialisation" of the Kimberley

While large not-for-profit organisations dominate the headlines (and the funding), here in Western Australia it is small civil society groups and not-for-profit organisations that lead the struggle for environmental, economic, racial and social justice. 

There is no better example than the current campaign to oppose and challenge  the Barnett Government 's plans to industrialise the Kimberley.

Small civil society groups, Aboriginal organisations and individual citizen activists lead the fight against the proposed $30 billion liquified natural processing plant (gas hub) at James Price Point in the Kimberley and Barnett Government plans to industrialise the Kimberley region. James Price Point is on the Dampier Peninsula, 60km from the town of Broome, on land subject to native title claim. The proposed hub is being developed by Woodside Petroleum and its consortium partners including Shell, BP and Chevron.

When he came to power in 2008 Premier Colin Barnett revoked a process already in place to select a site. Barnett also removed the Indigenous veto over the site and threatened to compulsory acquire the land if Aboriginal people did not agree to his plan.

The Kimberley Land Council, acting on behalf of Traditional Owners, signed an Agreement with Woodside Petroleum and the State Government in 2009 which gave in principle approval to the plant on the basis of an Indigenous Land Use agreement which would deliver economic and financial benefit to the Traditional owners and the KLC. However, not all Aboriginal claimants accepted or agreed with the KLC's Agreement and when they were unable to resolve their differences, the Barnett Government moved to compulsory acquire the land for the site, regardless of Aboriginal wishes.

Aboriginal people are divided on the issue and how it will impact on the community. Some support the proposed gas hub, but oppose the Barnett Government's compulsory acquisition of land.  Others oppose the James Price Point gas hub, as well as broader plans by the Barnett Government and large mining and resource companies to "industrialise" the Kimberley and have pursued legal action in Federal and State courts to prevent the development.

Environmentalists and citizens are concerned that the gas hub will be the beginning of the end for the Kimberley as a wilderness area and is part of Barnett Government plans to industralise the Kimberley, as has occurred in the Pilbara and the Midwest.

Opposition to the gas hub and the compulsory acquisition of land has galvanized a coalition of Aboriginal groups and Aboriginal leaders, local, state and national environment and conservation groups, local residents and concerned West Australians.

On October 16th an estimated 2500 citizens marched though the streets of Broome to rally and protest against the proposed gas precinct and Barnett Government plans to compulsorily acquire over 20,000 hectares of land at James Price Point, some of which is currently subject of native title claim. This is despite Premier Barnett's claims that the gas precinct will only be 3500 hectares in size (2500 hectares of land and 1000ha of marine area).

The WA Environmental Defenders Office, a small community legal service, is representing Aboriginal elder Joseph Roe in a legal action in the WA Supreme Court against Woodside to prevent it clearing vegetation at James Price Point.

Woodside was granted the clearing permit by the WA Government before the completion of the required environmental assessment process. Woodside claims that it needs to clear the vegetation to test the availability of ground water for the Project. Aboriginal laweman Joseph Roe argues that Woodside and the State Government have acted illegally and are clearing vegetation on a site that has cultural significance.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Remembering John Pat

photo courtesy of Deaths in Custody Watch Committee

This Friday October 8 the WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee is holding John Pat Memorial Day 2010, to remember John Pat and all the other Aboriginal people who have died in custody in Western Australia. The ceremony will be held at Fremantle Prison, this Friday between 11am-12.30pm.

John Pat was just 16 years old when he died in a Roebourne Police cell in 1983. He  died of head injuries alleged to have been caused in a disturbance between Aboriginal people and Police, and subsequent beatings by Police. Four police were charged with manslaughter but acquitted. The death was the catalyst for the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.  

The terrible death of Mr Ward in the back of a prison van and recent Aboriginal deaths in custody remind us that thirty years later little has changed in Western Australia.

WA poet Jack Davis wrote what I believe is one of the finest Australian poems of all time about the death of John Pat.  Jack Davis's poem has been put into song by Archie Roach and Mark Bin Bakar.
John Pat
by Jack Davis (from the book John Pat and Other poems, published 1988)
" Write of life
the pious said
forget the past
the past is dead.
But all I see
in front of me
is a concrete floor
a cell door
and John Pat

Agh! tear out the page
forget his age
thin skull they cried
that's why he died!
But I can't forget
the silhouette
of a concrete floor
a cell door and John Pat

The end product
of Guddia* law
is a viaduct
for fang and claw,
and a place to dwell
like Roebourne's hell
of a concrete floor
a cell door
and John Pat

He's there- where?
there in their minds now
deep within,
there to prance
a sidelong glance
a silly grin
to remind them all
of a Guddia wall
a cell door
and John Pat
* Guddia is a Kimberley term for the white man