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James Price Point
<p>AAP image/Cortlan Bennett</p>

AAP image/Cortlan Bennett

The Kimberley: The Right Thing Or Ka-Ching?

As Western Australia gave its environmental approval to Woodside Petroleum’s plan, executive-turned-activist Geoffrey Cousins gave this inside view of the fight against the project — and a way out.

I am sitting in a nondescript meeting room in the Sydney business district, facing two men. One is Michael Chaney, chairman of National Australia Bank and Woodside Petroleum, one of the doyens of Australian business — some would say the doyen. The other is the then-CEO of Woodside, Don Voelte, a voluble American.

Voelte is running true to form, and words pour forth from him in a never-ending stream about the benefits of Woodside's plans to industrialise the Kimberley and bring rivers of milk and honey to the mouths of the Aboriginal communities who live there. Chaney doesn't speak at this meeting in October, 2010. He fixes me with what I assume is his steeliest gaze. He seems pleased with it.

Even when Voelte (who in late June was appointed chief executive of Seven West Media) launches into a scurrilous and defamatory attack on an Aboriginal leader I have been meeting with, or "getting into bed with" as the good Don puts it, Chaney sits there silently. He doesn't interject; he doesn't question his CEO for describing this person as "a criminal and a drunk". He sits there.

But suddenly the distinguished face comes to life, and a finger is pointed at me, jabbed towards me in fact, with these words almost hurled across the table:

"You are acting unethically."

This comes as somewhat of a surprise. We have never met before, and whilst I wasn't expecting to be presented with Woodside's Citizen of the Year Award, as I am a strident opponent of its planned massive gas hub at James Price Point in the Kimberley, nor was I expecting my ethical behaviour to be brought into question.

Not even at the height of the Gunns battle in Tasmania over its proposed pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, where accusations flowed fast and loose, had this claim been thrown at me — although just about every other negative remark had. Including the then-Tasmanian Premier's comment that I wasn't welcome in his state.

I ask Chaney to explain. He takes up the opportunity with relish.

"You are trying to deny the Aborigines in the Kimberley the benefits we will bring to them," is his response.

Ah, yes. This is the cry of the mining companies wherever they want to go in Australia where indigenous people live or have ever lived. "We will bring benefits that only our activities can bring. These will be employment, health and educational benefits that will help to solve the enduring problems of Aboriginal communities." So the issues the miners put front and centre aren't the obvious environmental risks; it's really all about helping people.

Woodside, and Chaney in particular, have perfected this piece of sophistry; perhaps they've come to believe it. And they are wholeheartedly supported in it by the West Australian government. When Premier Colin Barnett was asked why these benefits wouldn't still flow to the Jabirr Jabirr and Goolarabaloo people if the gas hub was located somewhere in WA other than the sensitive Kimberley coast, he replied, "No. They won't get them unless it's here."

Is there really some government policy that ties royalties or taxes from a particular site to the surrounding region? No, quite the opposite in fact. The WA government's Royalties to Regions programme mandates that funds can be moved to where they're needed. Royalties can be applied to any use the government chooses, which seems self-evident but the policy states it anyway. Strangely, one of the first applications of this initiative is to use royalties from Rio Tinto and BHP's operations in the Pilbara to build the Fiona Stanley Hospital in Perth. According to the Premier, the Kimberley is where the funds are desperately needed, which is true, but somehow they find their way to Perth.

More than 40 years ago, WA Premier Charles Court made comments similar to Barnett's when the Pilbara was opened up to mining: the local Aboriginal communities would be the beneficiaries. Their lives would change for the better.

What then are the facts of Aboriginal life in the Pilbara compared to other areas? This is particularly relevant since the region's largest city, Karratha, is the home of Woodside. If they haven't delivered all these benefits there, I would have thought it's unlikely they'll keep their promises anywhere else.

The Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, at the Australian National University, published a study in 2005 entitled Indigenous People and the Pilbara Mining Boom. A line of this report reads thus: "Despite 40 years of sustained economic development in the Pilbara region, the labour force status of Indigenous Pilbara residents has barely altered." The report examines in detail aspects of Indigenous health, education and employment in this region and compares them to other parts of WA and the state as a whole. It points out that life expectancy in the Pilbara for males is 52-55 years and for females is 60-63 years (current life expectancy for an Australian male is 79-80 and female, 84, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Statistics). The ANU report goes on to say:

"If we add to this the fact of relatively high Indigenous morbidity rates commencing in young adulthood and rising throughout the prime working ages, then a pattern emerges of severe physical constraints on the ability of many in the community to engage in meaningful and sustained economic activity."

<p>AAP image/Cortlan Bennett</p>

AAP image/Cortlan Bennett

James Price Point — the site of Woodside Petroleum's proposed $40 billion LNG plant — about 60km north of Broome in Western Australia's far-northern Kimberley region.

As far as the promised hospitals and other health and educational facilities are concerned, the report states:

"Among the issues underlying health status, this study emphasises the significance of ongoing backlogs in achieving environmental health infrastructure [and] the need for improved outcomes from education and training."

Even if all of this were not true, it's the fundamental premise that seems false. The concept that you now receive a good education in Australia or adequate healthcare if you happen to live in a valuable mining area, whether you are Indigenous or not, is so preposterous as to appear to need no reply. But perhaps not in the Premier's mind. Nor in the federal minister Martin Ferguson's mind, as he has made similar statements. And obviously not in Michael Chaney's mind.

"You don't understand," he says to me. "My family has been involved with Aboriginal issues for years. My brother Fred, you must know, has had a lifelong commitment."

I do know this. As a federal senator, Fred Chaney had a long track record of involvement in those areas. But my brother is one of the world's leading authorities on the treatment of pain. Few of his patients come to me for advice. I would have liked to quote Michael Chaney these words from Patrick Dodson in his inaugural Mahatma Gandhi Oration: "In the midst of the mining boom many Aboriginal people are finding immediate relief from the poverty besetting many of our communities by gaining employment in the mining industry. But I question whether in the long term our participation in unbridled exploitation is not in fact adding to the diminishment of our custodial responsibilities to humanity, global sustainability and resilience."

Once confidence in a company begins to crumble, chairmen can become casualties, reputations can suffer, shareholder value can erode in a flash.

These words were not spoken by Pat Dodson until much later — not in fact until January 30, 2012. But they destroy the short-term promises of the mining snake-oil salesmen in two elegant sentences. As the father of Reconciliation and a person who lives these issues rather than reading about them, Pat Dodson may make some modest claim to believability on the matter.

But Chaney presses on. "And my daughter works at Kalumburu — I suppose you've never heard of it?"

I explain that my wife and I had dinner there with the last remaining Benedictine monk a few years ago. I don't say how devastated we were to see the appalling conditions in this place, the most northerly settlement in Western Australia, or to learn that it had been a prosperous and healthy community since its founding in 1908, before the Kalumburu road was dozered through the 270 kilometres to the south to join up with the Gibb River Road. There doesn't seem any point, since Chaney is clearly annoyed I've ever been there at all.

Instead I ask about other matters. Why not build this massive industrial plant somewhere else? It's said to be the largest gas hub anywhere in the world, although in October of 2009, Premier Barnett said, "This is not an industrial complex as someone would try and describe it. It is basically a large refrigerator." Some refrigerator.

The land area for the site is 2,500 hectares, with a further 1,000 hectares of marine zone. Presently, the largest gas hub in the world is Qatargas, which has an output of 42 million tonnes per annum. The JPP project is scheduled to produce 50 million tonnes per annum. It will also produce 39 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year — more than the annual output of the country of New Zealand. The problem for Barnett is that he also said on April 13, 2010 at an oil conference in Houston, "In every sense the biggest game in town is the development of mega projects for the export of LNG. These projects, both existing and proposed, dwarf any other industrial projects in Australia." Politicians always like to please an audience.

<p>AAP Image/Mark Jones</p>

AAP Image/Mark Jones

The blockade against Woodside's development, June 2011.

So, why not pipe this gas to the Pilbara, an area already pockmarked by mining excavations and processing operations? Why not use a floating platform as Shell is doing at its Prelude Field in the Browse Basin? No environmental groups have voiced any opposition to this initiative, despite the cry from the mining companies that nothing will ever satisfy them.

Not viable. Not possible. Can't be done. One by one, the negative responses roll out.

But I'm a businessman, not a professional tree hugger, so I'd like to know why? Why are the other land-based alternatives not viable? JP Morgan published a report in 2009 saying there were a number of these sites that were economically viable. Out of date, irrelevant, is the response. Why not the floating option like Shell, as the James Price Point gas is likewise in the Browse Basin? Not possible because of the weather, Chaney replies. Different weather conditions prevail in this area that would make it dangerous for workers.

These responses were puzzling at the time, but more so later. I meet with Shell, and I'm told by the senior executive responsible for their investment in this proposed project that there's no technical reason a floating platform can't be used at James Price Point. I then check the government approval documents given to Shell for the Prelude Field, and find that one of the conditions for development is that the platform must be able to withstand a one-in-ten-thousand year weather event. The weather at the Woodside field must be something to behold.

Then why the insistence on James Price Point as the site? Because the state and federal governments wrote that into the lease renewal documents, the Shell executive says.

Chaney doesn’t speak at this meeting in October, 2010. He fixes me with what I assume is his steeliest gaze. He seems pleased with it.

Is that common? I ask.

"I've never seen it before," is the response.

Later in 2011, Merrill Lynch publishes a 44-page report on possible alternative sites, including the Pilbara, and also concludes that there are several viable options. The Australian newspaper reports this conclusion.

I meet with the federal environment minister, Tony Burke. I ask him if he has read the Merrill Lynch report. He's never heard of it. I suggest it is a relevant document for a minister to see when it deals with a project awaiting his approval. He asks a staff member, who is attending this Sydney meeting by video link from Canberra, to get a copy. The staff member replies that it isn't publicly available. I point out that the press have already reported on it. Silence from Canberra, followed by a curt instruction from the minister to put the report on his desk the next day.

None of this is encouraging, but plenty of other events are. Unless the local community supports a cause, it's difficult in these environmental fights to win the battle. The Broome community, a magic mix of Aboriginal, Chinese, Malay and European families all melded together, initially seemed to be stunned and uncertain over this issue. The first time I visited Broome to give a view on the subject, they would only meet in the garden of a private home.

<p>AAP Image/Talhy Stotzer</p>

AAP Image/Talhy Stotzer

Police prepare to break a month-long anti-gas hub protest blockade, July 2011.

But many things have brought a change. When more than 60 riot police, in training for CHOGM, flew in from Perth with the capital city media in tow, the local community was unsettled to say the least. When the riot squad, now travelling with a reality TV show film crew as well, arrived on Manari Road at James Price Point to remove a group of protesters who were blocking access to the construction site, including a number of prominent Aboriginal leaders, the disquiet lifted several notches. Late that day, after the media and the reality television program had left, the riot squad returned, formed a flying wedge and smashed the protesters off the road.

When I visited the site a short time later I spoke to several of these people, including an elderly Aboriginal woman who said she'd been knocked down into a roadside ditch. While we were speaking, we were constantly filmed by private security personnel employed by Woodside. Every car that passes their checkpoint, set up on a public road, is filmed — every number plate, every face. On a public road. In Australia.

Imagine if this occurred in Sydney or Melbourne, or even Perth. Every citizen being filmed and recorded by employees of a division of Halliburton hired by a mining company. The security goons refused to speak, refused to give their names, refused to respond in any way. They followed us up Manari Road in their vehicles with reflective windows, wearing their sunglasses with reflective lenses. Is this Australia now?

I thought not, so when we returned to Broome, I went to visit a senior police officer. Another anonymous conference room, another unfulfilling response.

I asked him why the police allowed these private security people to patrol and film on a public road. He replied, "Well, you can film them, can't you?"

More than 40 years ago, WA Premier Charles Court made similar comments to Barnett’s when the Pilbara was opened up to mining: The local Aboriginal communities would be the beneficiaries. Their lives would change for the better.

I asked him why they were allowed to block access to public land. The response was, "Ah, yes, well there we are in uncharted waters."

Finally, I asked him whether he had taken paramedics or made any other provision for medical assistance when he escorted the riot squad out to James Price Point.

"Why would I?" was the response.

"Because it's a remote place, and there's no way to get medical help for an injured person. And you knew the riot police were planning to charge them in a flying wedge."

At this point I was asked to leave, not politely but not with any physical aggression either.

<p>The Global Mail</p>

The Global Mail

The sea breezes of Cable Beach blow away some of the unclean feeling of those encounters, but it's still easy to wake in the night and see those smug faces pointing cameras at me and refusing to speak. Where am I? Haiti?

No, I am on Cable Beach and it's the next day and 5,000 people are there also. One third of the entire population of Broome has come down to the sea to join in a gentle protest against the gas hub ruining their way of life. The Pigram Brothers sing, and Rob Hirst from Midnight Oil, and there's not an unhappy note from anyone.

Except maybe the police, who sit in the sand hills because they don't know what else to do. The singers are on a boat, so technically no one needs a licence to be there. The riot squad has a day off.

What am I doing expending all this time and energy on a place Premier Barnett describes as "a rocky wasteland"? He also says, "James Price Point has a beach, not remarkable". Are these remarks reminiscent of former Tasmanian Premier Robin Gray's description of the Franklin River when the dam protests were on as just a "leech-ridden" ditch? They are to me. If you've rafted the Franklin, you'd never allow it to be dammed. If you've driven or flown or cruised the Kimberley, you couldn't allow it to be industrialised. Not any part of it — rocky, flat, mountainous or otherwise. Not the land or the sea.

And the sea here is as unique as the land. The area off James Price Point is one of the largest migatory areas for humpback whales. Not to mention other remarkable sea creatures, such as dugongs, massive rays, maybe marine life as yet undiscovered. I do mention the whales to Michael Chaney.

But I’m a businessman, not a professional tree hugger, so I’d like to know why? Why are the other land-based alternatives not viable?

"Nonsense, it's not a major whale area," he says.

Really? But what about the Curtin University report that says it is.

"It's rubbish", he replies. "I spoke to the Vice Chancellor. They're ashamed of it."

I try another tack. "How about the report of sightings of whales and calves over many years at James Price Point by the two naturalists who live there?"

"Never heard of it," says Chaney.

<p>AAP Image/Dan Peled</p>

AAP Image/Dan Peled

An aerial view of James Price Point, where the proposed complex would be built.

It was the Commonwealth Government's Humpback Whale Recovery Plan (2005-2010) that states that a critical habitat for whales in Australia includes "the southern Kimberley between Broome and the northern end of Camden Sound". This critical habitat zone as described in that plan includes James Price Point. I can only assume this document is also unknown to Michael Chaney.

It's a rare talent to be able to dismiss whales with a wave of the hand. Most people can see them pretty easily. Most people who've been to James Price Point have.

If this massive gas hub is built at this site, a port has to be built as well. Because of the extreme tidal movements in the Kimberley, an area of dredging stretching over six kilometres out to sea has to be maintained for the life of the plant — approximately 50 years. Woodside describes the effects of this dredging in its annual report as "temporary". Approximately 1,500 large ships have to come and go each year, and innumerable support vessels. Even the most intrepid whale might be slightly disturbed by this, the constant dredging and the use of sonar devices.

But while the federal government is busy telling the Japanese not to kill whales, it is remarkably silent on this aspect of their procreation, or indeed their simple enjoyment of life. Death, apparently, is what matters. Politically speaking.

So every time I think it's not worth the fight, the facts get in the way. The Kimberley is the last remaining pristine savannah region on the planet. The oceans are the cleanest and have the most complex and rare marine environment on earth. The cultural heritage and rock art are beyond any measure of their worth. It's obvious why you'd try to keep them.

“The rest of Australia, get used to it: this is where the money is.”

But still people ask. "Do you own land there? Do you have shares in some tourist operation? Are you trying to nobble the government?"

No. No. No. I'd like to ask why these cynical questions are put to me, but I don't. You can't afford to get angry. Let the other side take the anger route. They'll wear themselves out and trip over their own hubris sooner or later. And in this Woodside issue, they are. They've lost the support of the Broome community. Now they lose in court. On December 6 2011, in the Supreme Court of WA, the judge ruled that the WA government has been sloppy in describing the land it is trying to compulsorily acquire for this project and the Court strikes down all of its efforts thus far. The process can, and likely will, start again; indeed in June, another traditional owner of James Price Point lodged a fresh legal challenge, prompting Woodside to pause site works. Last month, it was revealed that four of the five board members of the state's Environmental Protection Authority had conflicts of interest that disqualified them from the deliberation. The minister delayed the release of the decision until this week, when on the say of EPA chairman Paul Vogel, the project was approved with 29 conditions. The Wilderness Society immediately raised the prospect of a legal challenge to the EPA approval. State and federal approvals are yet to come. All of this involves time and uncertainty. The financial markets hate both.

And they express their growing dislike for this project. In January 2012, Macquarie Bank publishes a report about the project headed "Has it missed the boat?" The proposed joint venture partners, including Shell, BHP Billiton, Chevron and BP, have also expressed reservations at various times. So the Woodside CEO tries to head off any further uncertainty by stating that if any of these companies choose not to take up their allocations, Woodside will buy them out.

Really? Just like that? The CEO of a public company would change the entire structure of the biggest non-government industrial project in the country's history, without any reference to shareholders or anyone else? Now that's corporate governance for you.

But what to do if after all this you didn't want to go ahead? If you are the board of Woodside, how could you get out of this project altogether or move it to a more acceptable site, without looking as if you've suffered a loss at the hands of a ragtag group of activists? Would you wait and fight it to the death or seize the day and somehow turn it to your advantage?

<p>Ron D'Raine/Bloomberg via Getty Images</p>

Ron D'Raine/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Michael Chaney, chairman of Woodside Petroleum Ltd.

Woodside isn't a company like Gunns once was. It is stronger financially; in my opinion it has a more experienced and better credentialed board; it has less political baggage. At the moment. But as I see it, all these strengths are at risk in this one project and can disappear in a surprisingly short time. Once confidence in a company begins to crumble, chairmen can become casualties, reputations can suffer, shareholder value can erode in a flash.

So if you're smart, you move. You take the initiative, you gain kudos for choosing the right path and engage your opponents instead of keeping them at arm's length. You come out of the bunker before the walls crash around you.

This is where Woodside is right now. It's a fascinating dilemma — the sort that is increasingly common in business today. Ignore community concerns, plough ahead with hubris and contempt for contrary views, and you can end up with a new board apologising for the sins of the old before you know it.

But it's a tight-knit community in WA and half a dozen people think they run the country. No one makes this clearer than Premier Barnett when, on February 1 2012, mining magnate Gina Rinehart makes a raid on Fairfax stock. He says, "Little old Wesfarmers bought Coles, Kerry Stokes has bought Channel Seven nationally, now maybe Gina Rinehart's going to own Fairfax." He could have pointed out also that Michael Chaney is the former CEO of Wesfarmers, Kerry Stokes is a major supplier of mining equipment and controls the only newspaper group in WA and Gina Rinehart is a vocal and relentless opponent of many restrictions on mining companies. Instead, Barnett sums up the influence of the group in this way: "The rest of Australia, get used to it: this is where the money is."

So which path would Woodside take? It could select a new site, it could edge away from responsibility by selling down its shareholding, or it could stand up to the government and say that the lease renewal conditions were wrong. In January, the answer comes: Woodside announced an auction would be held for part of its shareholding. In June, Woodside sold 15 per cent of its stake to the Japanese consortium involving Mitsui and Mitsubishi for AUD2 billion. "We have a commitment to take James Price Point through to a certain decision point," Woodside's chief executive and managing director Peter Coleman told the company's annual general meeting the day after the MIMI deal was announced.

Some people think this is the end of James Price point as the site; others aren't so sure.

So what can you do if the owners, irresponsibly, decide to press ahead at James Price Point? Not much really. After all, a lot of people will make a lot of money and the country will benefit from all the taxes and royalties. So say the cynics, but not the people of goodwill who fight these battles to their considerable cost: the lawyers who donate their time to fight the court battles while the companies use shareholders' funds and the governments use taxpayers', or the protesters who camp by the roads or climb the trees and live off hope and a love of wild places, or people in the local communities who risk being ostracised because they might take a dollar or two out of someone's wallet in order to save a way of life, or the volunteers in any number of environmental groups who suffer abuse from many quarters.

Is it possible a major Australian company like Woodside would just walk away from its responsibilities in an issue such as this? It's possible because companies have tried to engineer ways to dodge difficult issues in the past, but I would like to think not here. It is increasingly unlikely that the project will proceed in the Kimberley.

The gas will be piped to the Pilbara or the Northern Territory as logic suggests. So surely Woodside could take the initiative and lead the change. I will applaud them if they do. My main aim for 2012 is to sit across that table again from Michael Chaney and be able to say: "You're acting ethically, Michael. Congratulations."

40 comments on this story
by M. Sharma

An excellent article from Mr Cousins. I would work for this man in a heartbeat. Thank you for your efforts to pull big business into line and call them out on their greed and self interest. We don't have many truly wild and pristine places left and its a fight to get most people to think about wilderness and what its worth. Especially at a time when politicians use very dodgy means such as discrediting science to manipulate public opinion so they can shore up support for themselves and self interested parties. Thank you sir!

July 19, 2012 @ 9:25am
by Andrew

What a superb piece of work. I was alerted to it by Mr Cousins' interview this morning on ABC News 24, which was also a cogent performance on his part. If sanity finally prevails in this affair, he will be rightly proud of his part in the campaign.

July 19, 2012 @ 9:56am
by Julie

Thanks for running this yarn Global Mail. It is the best summation I have read on this heart breaking issue - it was also wonderfully written by Mr. Cousins - just suffering a tad with professional jealousy!

July 19, 2012 @ 11:23am
by Dave

What a great article. Geoff Cousins is a very credible advocate for the environment which makes him a real threat to the corporate and political thugs who run this country, particularly in WA. Watch out Geoff. I recommend reading the report by Curtin Uni -
Kimberley Whale Coast Tourism: A Review of Opportunities and Threats
August 2010. I assume this is the report Mr Chaney dismisses which is a good reason to read it.

July 19, 2012 @ 11:24am
by Rotha

The Kimberley
I read Geoffrey Cousins' excellent piece from start to finish in spite of the fact that I short of time today. I'm glad I did.
Great reporting, informative and engaging. I must go to the Kimberley.

July 19, 2012 @ 12:15pm
by Leonie

Big thanks to Geoff Cousins for tearing away the thin veneer put up by the mining industry and the WA government.

I hope you achieve your aim for 2012.

Kind regards

July 19, 2012 @ 1:42pm
by Robert

Thanks for a wonderfully fresh, sensible and coherent argument Geoff.
A great bit of journalism, it captured me from start to finish.,,,I have not heard Sophistry mentioned since Paul Keating days!!!
Moreover as a businessman myself I find pragmatic solution seeking perspective's from big business hard to come by. Business leaders need to heed the call-up to become way more responsible to their OWN conscience. If they neglect that they will fall. The Australian public (and the world's for that matter) will not accept or even tolerate any lack of integrity.
Thanks, Global Mail.

July 19, 2012 @ 2:52pm
by milton

Bravo Mr Cousins.
Great article and interview earlier today on ABC.
How do we engage more conscionable business minds to take up the challenge of environment to the board rooms?
Well done.

July 19, 2012 @ 3:47pm
by Paul

Good work Geoff Cousins and the Global Mail

July 19, 2012 @ 4:07pm
by Liz

Great article Mr Cousins

I too hope you achieve your aim in 2012

July 19, 2012 @ 6:57pm
by Isabelle

Thank you Mr Cousins for this informative article and for your action to defend our land. How can we believe one second that this project will benefit the Aboriginal communities living there?
Also, let's not forget "(...)We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea:
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
of beauty rich and rare (,,,)"
James Price point is such a gift that we should all respect and protect.
Mr Chaney don't spoil, in the name of business, what makes us so proud of our country,

July 19, 2012 @ 10:42pm
by Don

I felt heartened to be an Australian upon reading this from an Australian businessman! Wow!

July 19, 2012 @ 10:54pm
by Jim

Great article. I think the point about Aboriginal benefits is particularly well made. If we get into the political headspace that Aboroginal people only deserve proper services and opportunities when mining companies say its OK where are we heading? Those people deserve the benefit of state government royalty money regardless of where the mines are located. After all, we all get the benefit, and we don't live there. He's right, it will go to the Pilbara, its inevitable.

July 19, 2012 @ 11:28pm
by Suds

Great article. Really enjoyed it.

July 20, 2012 @ 12:14am
by Gae

Fantastic article! I have recently visited JPP and have been despairing about the potential loss of this incredible untouched and delicate environment and the impact it will have on the indigenous culture and spirit. For Woodside to proceed is a crime to humanity. I now feel hope - thankyou.

July 20, 2012 @ 12:50am
by Scot

I was shooting for a short documentary on an indigenous mental health initiative in Broome last week. I wish I'd read this first- it would explain why the police kept giving me the hard stare whilst shooting overlay around the town. I knew it was a charged issue from talking to locals, but not about the extent of intimidation from the company and government. Fantastic article Geoff!

July 20, 2012 @ 1:33pm
by Maureen

Barnett sums up the influence of the group in this way: "The rest of Australia, get used to it: this is where the money is."

Wow! What arrogance! It is difficult not to be angry at such short sightedness, self interest and greed, that has far reaching social and environmental consequences. These people are like cowboys in the wild west.

Thank you Mr Cousins for a fantastic article!

July 20, 2012 @ 5:51pm
by Ross

Good work, thank you

I wonder if Fred Chaney goes around telling people what good work his brother does ...

July 20, 2012 @ 8:00pm
by annette

Hooray Geoffrey Cousins and Global Mail, finally someone with enough guts and TRUE independence to say true things.

July 20, 2012 @ 11:06pm
by Helen

Excellent piece. This is why I read the GM.

July 21, 2012 @ 1:04am
by Stewart

This is all a micro issue regarding the larger macro issue of Asia's energy needs over the coming decades.
Viewed in this ways, exporting Australia's Queensland and Northwest Shelf gas supplies to China, Japan and South Korea could be done by a pipeline stretching from Australia to Northeast Asia, with high-voltage power lines and fiber optic telecoms cables bunded in. Result: a 'network' akin to the Internet in which natural gas would merely provide 'load balancing' to a regional energy system dominated by renewables.
To learn more, see

July 21, 2012 @ 8:26am
by Phil

Good work Geoff.

July 21, 2012 @ 9:12am
by Suzanne

How frightening that such wealthy powerful people have , potentially the power to have their way with our environment,and the ear of state and federal governments!

July 21, 2012 @ 10:05am
by Julia

Very educational,shocking and disturbing with a bit of hope for the future perhaps. much thanks

July 21, 2012 @ 1:11pm
by Ken R

a) I loved Mr Cousins' riposte to Chairman Chaney's argument that his brother Fred had a reputation for helping Aboriginals.
b) The piece also scarily highlights the hubris that can prevent lesser men backing down when events start to go against their wishes.
c) Having spent ten days along The Kimberley coast in June, I can vouch for the fact there are whales off James Price Point. In fact, it was the ONLY place we saw any.
d) I also flew over the proposed site to inform myself and was surprised at the extent of the plant footprint which was marked out in the scrub.
e) Thanks also to Mr Cousins for informing us about the port dredging for half a century. How will this (and the shipping) affect the Lacipede Islands Nature Reserve which is about the same distance away as Broome?
f) I then drove down to Perth via the Pilbara and was astonished at how inadequate the infrastructure was until one got within a few hours of Perth. It's third world stuff despite decades of mining wealth.

July 21, 2012 @ 2:10pm
by Paul, BikeToBroome

This is an excellent article. Thank you Geoffrey Cousins.
The bullying tactics and heavy-handedness with which the Western Australian government is employing to get its way on this matter gives evidence to the enormous amount of money that can be made by industrialising the Kimberley. And as Mr Cousins pointed out in an interview with ABC Radio this week, "In Western Australia there is so much money being made that people are prepared to do whatever it takes to get these things done." Yes, as far as this government is concerned, money does make the world go around and it will do whatever it takes.
Thank god for people like Geoffrey Cousins.

July 21, 2012 @ 4:46pm
by Ian

Perhaps Mr Cousins should inspect the Barrow Island facility operated by Chevron. This facility operates and is expanding in an extraordinarily sensitive environment that is commensurate with James Price Point. Both situations are regulated by the same bodies. Odd that!

July 23, 2012 @ 12:15pm
by Ron

Questions of ethics are raised here about Mr Cousins. I'd like to know - did he represent himself as a journalist who would be writing an article when he had these meetings with Mr Chaney and others? Because if not, it is certainly a major breach of faith. And it would certainly draw into question the veracity of these alleged direct quotes

July 23, 2012 @ 1:59pm
by Philip

Not hard to spot replies from a couple of mining industry PR hacks eh...?

July 23, 2012 @ 3:21pm
by Graeme Rule

Well done Geoffrey. The piece would be funny if it wasn't so serious. Thanks again for your tenacity, wit and timely identification with a community being exploited.

July 23, 2012 @ 9:14pm
by Karen

This article confirms my worst imaginings of Woodside et al. But what is to be done about them? The EPA in WA has this week given the go ahead for the James Price Point Gas Hub despite their report clearly documenting the concerning scale of the project and vulnerability of the area.

July 24, 2012 @ 12:18pm
by Jenny

THANK YOU Geoff Cousins for your wonderfully refreshing article that makes one feel there is hope to change the course of this project!
I have been following the JPP issue for some years now just waiting for people with “ties, white shirts and suits” become involved, in these types of issues it’s always then that the real challenges begin for company's like Woodside and the Govt.
I am originally from a sheep station, where it was easy to imagine areas of size of land, however when I visited James Price Point, I just could not imagine the size of this project, it unfathomable to think it could be positioned in and ruin this pristine environment and then open up the Kimberley to more of this.
Well done Geoff, you have a great moral compass and the use of Hubris in your commentary – spot on. Don’t let go – good luck for 2012 – there are many behind you.
As written by Martin Luther King:
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter"

July 24, 2012 @ 9:06pm
by Jane

Geoff, I saw your interview on one of the morning tv programs and I am so pleased that some-one with common sense and foresight has taken up this David and Goliath challenge. Mining companies have to be made accountable for their impact on communities and the environment. This beauty will be forever destroyed. Why cannot they not find another way and build inland not on pristine coastlines. In a 100 years when our population has exploded we will need to have natural havens like this to escape to. Future generations will always be thankful that people like you stood up to myopic companies hell bent on the rape and pillage of our beautiful shore lines. If there is any-thing I can do to assist please advise. Concerned Australian Citizen.

July 28, 2012 @ 10:06pm
by John Sim

We camped at James Price point last night, met Mike Bowers who put us onto the Global mail. In the short time we have been in Broome we have struggled to get an understanding of the issues. Thankyou for your indepth article so well written and supported with factual information.

August 11, 2012 @ 12:42am
by Catherine

Thank you again Geoff - for this article and all of your actions helping protect the Kimerley. Your eithics and activism continue to inspire. I moved up to the Kimberley in 1994 as an accountant and was priviliged in my first year to walk the Lurujarri Heritage Trail - where we heard and then saw a mother and baby humped back whale. To think there are 6 whale watching boats operating in the dry season = what better evidence that there are plenty of whales close to shore.

April 3, 2013 @ 9:14pm
by Mark

I have worked on several mine sites, operating heavy machinery. I have never encountered a mining company that complies with it's environmental license conditions or its own environmental guidelines. As to assisting local indigenous communities, the mining industry as a whole and the people who work in it, have some of the most racist, patronising attitudes.

Mining companies are in the business of making money from material that they don't actually own. As a consequence, they need to butter up a lot of people, make grand promises and put lots of positive spin on their activities. While the money is rolling in and we are hoping for our own slice of the cake, it is easy to accept the spin, lip service and professionally crafted images. When it's all over, there will be a huge mess left to live with but by then it will probably be somebody else's problem.

If this project goes ahead, it will cause more damage than any government royalties could pay to fix and will leave devastated communities in its wake. This is the normal state of affairs and Woodside and the governments know it.

Thanks for keeping this important issue on the agenda.

April 13, 2013 @ 3:30pm
by gabrianga

Such a huge area required for this plant.
2500 hectatres out of the Kimberley region which is aprox 42,400,000 hectares.

Perhaps Geoff can explain the benefits to local and other Aborigines should the processing take place off shore and does his generosity extend to compensating the Land Owners who agreed to the projec?I

Might suggest that the Dodsons (Pat and Mick) both benefited from mining on Aboriginal Land (which was not even their traditional land" more than 90% of any other individual identified Land Owner.

Another pyrrhic victory for the anti-development lobby aided an abetted by the Green's at the expense of Australian Aborigines.


April 13, 2013 @ 7:25pm
Show previous 37 comments
by Bec Lane

Beware the hopefuls. Woodside's decision could well just be a stunt to make the activists leave and for the issue to disappear, and then they'll be right back in there with a force. I can only think of four things that can stop a massive mining company getting its way in this country: the mining company deciding that the environment is more important than profit (but I don't suspect this has ever happened); a courageous government (both state and fed) saying 'no you can't, ever' (it's possible but has only ever happened with one or two big projects); and a nuclear accident that releases so much radiation in the Kimberley that nothing can survive; or years of continued pressure from not only the Kimberley community but the entire country. Outside of these, we need a miracle. I'm hopeful for the last one.

April 15, 2013 @ 5:06pm
by Mark

I am sick of hearing of how mining development is a boon for local communities. I have worked in mining for some time and have temporarily benefited by earning high wages but the evidence is clear: Mining companies take what they can out of the ground and when they are finished, they leave little if anything, of benefit, behind. Sure, some people do well out of the mine when it's running but the true effect of these operations can be judged by visiting any one of the ex mining towns scattered around the country. With the exception of some of the larger regional hubs, they tend to be no better off than they were before the mining started. Even towns that are still the centres of mining operations don't always fare all that well.

A case in point: Southern Cross in the west Australian goldfields. Last century well over 10 million ounces of gold were extracted from pits around the town which, even after recent plunges in gold prices, would be worth over 13 billion dollars in today's money. With that kind of economic activity, one could expect the town of Southern Cross to be a thriving metropolis with facilities to rival any city in the world but that isn't the case. Despite continuing mining activity, it is just another sleepy country town, struggling with the same issues that other country towns in Australia struggle with. The Money goes where the owners take it - Perth, Melbourne, London and increasingly Beijing.

The only way that any locals (indigenous or not) can reap sustained benefit from mining is if the government makes positive interventions, but that's something we clearly haven't figured out how to do yet.

April 17, 2013 @ 11:16am
by Terry Scott

Are you insane??????Why can't you...the world respect the only environment that we have.
This is will prove and benefit NO ONE and NOTHING...and pocket monies to those who already have enough......You are savages to allow this to happen....Terry Scott

September 1, 2013 @ 3:06am
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