February 2008, the Australian Government Environment Minister signed an agreement with the Western Australian State Government to undertake a Strategic Assessment of the impacts of actions under a plan for the Browse Basin common-user liquefied natural gas (LNG) precinct (now referred to as multi- user) and associated activities.
Some people are aware that this Strategic Assessment Report is currently open for public comment and will be only assessed by the Federal Environment Minister under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Of great significance to this undertaking is the Senate Inquiry (August 2008 - The Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts, The operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act).
This was established to investigate the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and gauge how well Australia has responded to key environmental threats including ongoing land-clearing, invasive species and climate change.
Concerns were raised in this Senate Inquiry about the operation of bilateral agreements in circumstances where the proponent was closely linked with the State or Territory Government where there was a perceived bias or conflict of interest. In other words, it’s not appropriate for State Governments to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments where it is the proponent of the relevant project.
This Report goes on to say that [Section 4.8]
… there are no guarantees of adequate assessment of, for example, threatened species and native vegetation, local heritage, Aboriginal cultural heritage, greenhouse gas emissions. It is inappropriate to accredit a process that potentially excludes comprehensive assessment of such matters.
In Section 23.41 the Coalition Senators’ Additional Comments to the Senate Inquiry’s Report included reference to bilateral agreements and welcomed Recommendation 6 stating that:
… The risk of State governments operating in the simultaneous roles of proponent and assessor as outlined in 4.10 of the majority report does have the potential to undermine public confidence in the system established by this Act.
However, this Strategic Assessment Process has been more than an undermining of confidence in the system. For the township of Broome and the Dampier Peninsula communities it’s been a devastating and divisive process that has had its own set of debilitating social impacts. This Strategic Assessment Process has been very carefully camouflaged with implementation more like a series of strategic manoeuvres that advantageously sought to maintain high levels of tension within building mistrust within the community.
Our wider community (families, friends, work colleagues and social groups) have been subjected to divide and conquer tactics, sponsorship bribes and dazzled by the sheer arrogant audacity of the Strategic Assessment Process. This process has failed as it has not achieved community endorsement; instead we are now being subjected to heavy-handed tactics.
As the proponent for the proposed world’s largest LNG refineries is the current WA State Government regime, where is the probity, legitimacy or authenticity in this process or it's Report's findings? Where is the justification for increasing debilitating social, environmental and economic impacts into a community that simply just does not want the LNG gas refineries to happen?
WA State Government Regime are:
·the proponents of this project,
·had the final determinations the boundaries of both the project physical location and the scope of the Strategic Assessment,
have undertaken measures to compulsorily acquire the land,
·re the lead assessors of all submissions/reports
·approvers of the approvals
·are using tax payers funds for the development of what primarily will be a private multinational company enterprise,
·have selectively only consulted with all their own affiliated departments in preparation of the Strategic Assessment,
·are remiss in failing to undertake any economic modeling or business feasibility justification for this project
·have circumnavigated, alienated and dismissed the communities of the Dampier Peninsula and their Shire Council as major stakeholders throughout the assessment process,
All of this has resulted in a total lack of community confidence in the process and all integrity has dwindled out of the Assessment findings into predetermined fabrications of the State Government regime in support their multi corporate co-conspirators.
Given the findings of the Senate Inquiry how can the Federal Government sit back and watch this happen considering the issues at stake.
So, as a community, where does that leave us?