BY:GRAHAM LLOYD, ENVIRONMENT EDITOR
May 15, 2012 12:00AM
WA police give a show of force yesterday at James Price Point, the site of Woodside Petroleum’s controversial $40bn Broome CSG hub. Picture: Damian Kelly Source: The Australian
THE wet season has officially ended in Broome and a new flashpoint has arrived in the protests over Woodside Petroleum’s controversial $40 billion James Price Point gas hub.
Over the past four days, the tropical holiday town, 2176km north of Perth, has been flooded with an estimated 150 extra police who have taken up residence in five-star resorts to conduct a high-visibility operation – including manning outback booze buses and issuing a blizzard of car defect notices.
Yesterday, a large contingent of riot police had its first confrontation with a small group of protesters manning the barricades at “black tank” camp, where Manari Road joins the Cape Leveque Road for James Price Point. The display of police power to shepherd through Woodside machinery to the proposed gas hub site was seen by locals as a forerunner of what is to come.
Broome Shire President Graeme Campbell has declared two protest camps – where more than 40 arrests were made last year – to be illegal. A protest organiser said the camps had been given a deadline of Wednesday to be pulled down.
West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan said police had been sent to Broome to “keep the peace and ensure Woodside can go about its lawful activity”.
But Mitch Torres, a traditional owner from the Jabirr Jabirr-Djugun Yawuru tribe, said the traditional families of Broome were alarmed at what was taking place in their town.
Ms Torres said she represented the “old families of Broome” who had invested in the town for generations.
Visiting the Manari Road camp after yesterday’s police operation, Ms Torres accused police of acting as a private security firm for Woodside.
“Who are they protecting us from?” she asked. “Ourselves?”
Ms Torres said Labor Party polling had shown 79 per cent of Broome residents were opposed to the gas-hub development.
The project still enjoys the support of the Kimberly Land Council, which has negotiated a $1.5bn compensation package for traditional owners.
On Sunday, 300 people delivered flowers to the Broome police station to mark Mother’s Day and as a gesture of peace.
But beneath the public niceties there is a sense of foreboding and deep divisions over the project, which enjoys the strongest possible support from Premier Colin Barnett.
Woodside this month sold a 15 per cent stake in the Browse Basin project to a Japanese consortium for $2bn, raising doubts about the company’s determination to proceed with James Price Point as the site for a gas hub.
Woodside’s joint-venture partners reportedly favour pumping gas from James Price Point to LNG facilities further south.
But a defiant Mr Barnett has declared that the state government will decide where the gas-processing facilities are located, not the companies.
Woodside has yet to make a decision on whether to proceed but company chief executive Peter Coleman said the Japanese investment would not affect its plans.
The resumption of work at James Price Point is considered by many Broome locals to be a provocative act in the face of a Supreme Court decision to overturn the state government’s compulsory acquisition of the site and new legal wrangles by traditional owners.
Protesters at the Manari Road camp said about 80 police were used to assist a convoy of 14 Woodside trucks to pass, with protestors blocked so they could not approach it.