by: Lyndon Schneiders
From: The Australian
May 19, 2012 12:00AM
THIS week the government of Western Australia dispatched about 200 police officers to the sleepy tourist town of Broome to do the dirty work for several of the world's largest oil and gas companies.
This mini army has been assembled on the doorstep of the Kimberley wilderness for one purpose -- to suppress the widespread opposition of the Broome community to the construction of the proposed $40 billion James Price Point industrial precinct.
For the past four years, community opposition in Broome has grown steadily, uniting the community in a way that has led to Premier Colin Barnett taking this extreme action. Black and white, the overwhelming majority of Broome people have said "no".
Opinion polling reported in The Australian this week shows 79 per cent of Broome residents oppose the development. Thousands have attended rallies, public meetings and community events over the past year.
At the most recent council elections, two high-profile anti-gas candidates were elected, and one, Anne Polina, is now deputy mayor. On every street corner, there are signs of opposition to the gas plant.
So is this the new Australia, produced by the longest mining boom in our history? One in which the views of residents and traditional owners are meaningless and where the state provides armies of foot soldiers, free of charge, to the big end of town? All this while the companies behind the project remain stony silent about actions taken in their name to divide and destroy Broome.
Not a word when last year Aboriginal women and their grandchildren were dragged away by tactical response police to allow the safe passage of Woodside's contractors down the access road to James Price Point.
Not a word when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of WA ruled as invalid a clumsy attempt by the Barnett government to compulsorily seize the land for the gas hub from traditional owners.
Not a word when 7000 people gathered on the famous Cable Beach to say no to the gas hub.
And now not a word as Broome is converted into a war zone. All in their name, for their project, for their bottom line.
Their silence makes a mockery of their fine statements, their policies and their expensive advertising campaigns that pronounce their credentials as fine corporate citizens who care about communities.
The prime mover of this consortium, Woodside, has a "Sustainable Communities Policy" which states that as a company it "wishes to establish long-term relationships based on trust and respect that deliver mutual benefit". It says it will achieve this by "listening to the community and delivering on its commitments" and it will contribute "to the building of thriving communities".
They must be joking. The Broome community and a growing movement of people across Australia have said no, and have said it again and again.
How does Woodside plan to establish long-term relationships and trust and respect while an army of police is sent in to smash local opposition on its behalf, and when, precisely, will it start listening to the community that does not want this development?
Meanwhile, over at the Chevron Australia website, more fine words and sentiments about its deep commitment to the local community. Here managing director Roy Krzywosinski tells us that, "at Chevron Australia, we think like a community member because we are a community member" and "our focus is on building productive, collaborative, trusting and beneficial relationships".
Really? Well, as a member of the "community", perhaps Ray could let Premier Barnett know that he's not that keen on having his neighbours thrown in prison for standing in the way of bulldozers, or he could object when traditional owners are told they can either accept a deal to have the development forced on them or have their land compulsorily seized. Because that is what community means: standing up for one another, caring for one another.
Premier Barnett and his head cheerleader in the federal government, Martin Ferguson, long ago gave up looking like credible representatives of the public interest, and the latest outrage by the WA government is hardly a surprise, given their past form.
In this environment, only the corporations can make sanity prevail and end this conflict.
It is time Woodside and friends re-read their policies and statements. It is time they listened to Broome. It is time that they said no to Barnett and Ferguson, and it is time they announced they will pipe the gas south and leave Broome, its people and its beautiful environment alone.
Lyndon Schneiders is national director of The Wilderness Society.