Compulsory Acquisition challenged!

Indigineous People Say No6th December – Compulsory Acquisition of James Price Point by the WA Government Challenged and Won! Today a landmark ruling for Traditional Owners, Phillip Roe, (Goolarabooloo) and Jabbir Jabbir man, Neil McKenzie was handed down in the WA Supreme Court by Chief Justice, Wayne Martin.

James Price Point, site of the proposed biggest LNG gas processing hub in the world, is covered by a registered native title claim of the Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr peoples. The WA government and Woodside have been negotiating with the Kimberley Land Council for the past three years to secure an agreement on behalf of the registered claimants. In 2009 the KLC signed a non-binding Heads of Agreement with Woodside and the WA Government, causing a major rift between the KLC and the original applicants in the Goolarabooloo-Jabirr Jabirr native title claim.

Goolarabooloo elder and law man Joseph Roe took the KLC to court, claiming it acted without authority when it signed the agreement, so the Western Australian government announced it would compulsorily acquire the land under the Native Title Act if the impasse wasn’t solved. Roe, a chief opponent of the LNG plant, lost the case. Now Joseph’s brother, Phil, has challenged the might of the West Australian government and won!

Many of the Traditional Owners, and other members of the wider Kimberley indigenous community, continue to actively oppose the LNG plant, assisting Broome Community NO GAS in blockading the site, turning back Woodside workers and security. There has been much controversy surrounding the “vote” with many traditional owners contesting the validity of the vote, claiming either that their names were moved off the register, or when turning up to vote, were told to leave by the security.

Shortly after the vote one participant said, “The State Government has indicated to us that if we had not agreed, compulsory acquisition would have stepped up … Premier Barnett calls it “self-determination”, we call it, standing on our own feet with a gun to our head.” Under compulsory acquisition and the Native Title Act, traditional owners have no power to refuse such developments: they can merely negotiate the best deal they can in the form of compensation and other benefits. 164 votes for to 108 No were recorded and rather than settle the matter, it has made many people stand up and protest and further divided a once layback country town.

Further updates will be posted regarding the implications of the ruling and the outcomes!

6th December – Update The immediate practical effect of this judgment is the Browse project agreement, which depended on the validity of three notices of land acquisition were declared invalid as they did not identify the exact site for the LNG Plant. The state identified a much larger area of land than what was required.

Premier Barnett today said the court ruling didn’t “mean a great deal” and the agreement with the Kimberley Land Council, which will deliver some $1.5 billion in benefits to the local aboriginal community, was still intact.

“The State Government will simply reissue the notice of intent on the 3500 hectares, which is now identified as the exact site for the LNG plant,” Mr Barnett said.

“The land was not compulsory acquired, we acquired it through negotiations with the aboriginal representatives and that is according to the native title act and that stands.”

Mr Barnett said he did not believe there would be any delays to Woodside’s $30 billion Browse project, with the project partners still to make a final investment decision next year. He said it gave the State Government “plenty of time” to reissue the notice of intentions.

Woodside issued a statement saying the “provision of land for the Browse LNG Precinct is a matter for the State”. “We do not believe that this result will impact on our work program and our activities are continuing on site as scheduled.”

Mr Roe’s lawyer, Mr Orlov says proceedings to declare the song-line area, the Lurujarri Trail, an Aboriginal site under the Aboriginal Heritage Act will probably begin early next week. (See 26th June on this post to read about Lurujarri Trail).

Asked whether the proceedings could halt development, Mr Orlov said: “Yes, they can.”

“The area where the project is being developed is an Aboriginal site and has been since 1991,” Mr Orlov said.

“Any ground disturbing work in the area should have been approved by the Minister under the Heritage Act.

“It hasn’t been, so until that approval is obtained, it may well have an impact (on the development).”