Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr SAY NO TO GAS

Statement by Joseph Roe, Senior Law Boss, Registered Applicant of Goolaraboo / Jabirr Jabirr Country, (which includes James Price Point).

Senator Louise Pratt has invited other Senators, Members of the House of Representatives and their staff to attend a “Kimberley briefing” next Wednesday. She is hosting the briefing on behalf of the Kimberley Land Council (KLC). The KLC’s notice promises a presentation by KLC’s Executive Officer, Mr Wayne
Bergmann, and “senior men and women Kimberley Traditional Owners”.

Senator Pratt is acting in good faith. However, the KLC has no authority to negotiate with anybody about the development of James Price Point. Nor has anybody else at this stage.

James Price Point is situated north of Broome, in the Dampier Peninsula. It is included in the Native Title Claim lodged in 1994 by myself and Cyril Shaw “on behalf of the Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr Peoples” (G-JJ). Other Dampier Peninsula claims have since been made but no other group has disputed G-JJ’s
entitlement to James Price Point. It is universally recognised as Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr land.

My grandfather, Paddy Roe, was Senior Cultural Law Boss of Goolarabooloo / Jabirr Jabirr country and the Broome area for approximately five decades. Shortly before his death in 1992, he and the other G/JJ Elders formally appointed me as his successor.

In 1987, Paddy Roe initiated the Lurujarri Heritage Trail. Its route, a nine-day walk along the Dampier Peninsula coast, follows that of the Northern Tradition Song Cycle that has been handed down to us through many generations. Paddy Roe wished young G-JJ people to learn about their Country and Culture. He also wished to build cultural bridges with other people. He wanted the trail to be frequently walked in the company of Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr Elders. I have carried on that tradition. Participation is greater than ever. Thousands of people, including Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr, other indigenous peoples, non-indigenous Australians and many foreign visitors have walked the trail, learning along the way.

James Price Point (Walmadan) is midway in the Lurujarri Heritage Trail. Its development as a Gas Precinct would destroy the trail. It would also adversely affect the other traditional activities carried out in that area. It would be a betrayal of my heritage, and responsibility as Senior Law Boss, for me ever to agree to its industrialisation. Most of my people agree with me. They share my view that no amount of money could compensate for loss of their heritage. They ask why they should be expected to sacrifice so much for benefits,like health and education services, that other Australians receive as birth right.

Mr Bergmann claims the “Traditional Owners’ consented to the development of James Price Point at a meeting held on 14-15 April. That is not true. That was not just a meeting of the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr people; it was also open to Djabera Djabera people, whose claim does not overlap ours, and any other person
who claimed to be of G/JJ descent. I have repeatedly asked Mr Bergmann for a list of those who attended and, of those, who was eligible to vote. He has never provided either to me. I doubt that that any list was made.

Few Goolarabooloo people attended the meeting. None of the Goolarabooloo people knew that the KLC planned to take a vote about entering an agreement with Woodside Energy and the WA government. The notice calling the meeting stated only one item of business: “Update on Negotiations about the Premier’s nomination for a Gas Precinct around James Price Point.” Most of Goolarabooloo, who all oppose the whole
idea of the Gas Precinct, elected not to attend. They were not interested in these inappropriate negotiations.

Some months before this meeting, the Law Bosses of the Dampier Peninsula, along with Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr leaders, agreed that any decision about James Price Point should be made by consensus. Mr Bergmann knew this. Nonetheless, at the very end of the 14-15 April meeting, which had been dominated by discussion about the possible financial benefits of the Gas Precinct, Mr Bergmann called for a decision by majority vote. He ignored a request for a secret ballot. The matter was decided by a show of hands. I do not know the size of the majority. Along with several others, I had walked out in disgust. I have since asked Mr Bergman for a copy of the minutes of the meeting. My request has been ignored. I suspect no minutes were taken.

I have also asked Mr Bergmann for a copy of the agreement he signed with Woodside and the WA government, According to a note on the cover of the agreement, he signed: “On behalf of Kimberley Land Council representing the Traditional Owners (Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr Native Title claimants).” Despite the fact that I am a registered applicant and the lead claimant, he has refused to do more than allow
me to glance through the document at his office. He will not allow me to take away a copy, so that I may seek advice and discuss it with others, claiming it is “commercial-in-confidence.”

When I heard about the briefing arranged by Senator Pratt, I wrote to Mr Bergmann asking him to include me in the team to attend. Despite a reminder letter, he has not responded. I have not been told who are the people billed as “senior men and women Traditional Owners”.

The Goolarabooloo people are not opposed to exploitation of the Browse Basin gas reserves. We recognise its potential economic benefit to Australia. But there are alternatives to processing the gas at James Price Point. They may even be cheaper. The other Browse Basin leaseholders (Chevron, Shell, BP and BHP Billiton) seem to think so; they are currently investigating these alternatives.

In February last year, the Parliament made an Apology for past wrongs to the Aboriginal people. It was a moving and memorable day. However, some cynics wondered whether it would mean anything in practice. The manner in which the Government handles the issue of James Price Point will go a long way to provide
the answer.

Joseph Roe 14 September 2009

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