TENSIONS were raised dramatically in the standoff over the proposed $40 billion James Price Point gas hub near Broome yesterday, as a guerilla protest stopped work and Woodside directors were warned that they might be personally liable for criminal damage if drilling went ahead near sacred sites.
Heavy police reinforcements, sent to Broome to assist Woodside begin its new-season work program, were unable to prevent two middle-aged women who locked themselves to a car anchored to the ground from wrecking the company’s plans.
The lock-on caused a split between protesters and a traditional claimant group that had been gradually increasing the legal pressure on Woodside to respect heritage values at the James Price Point site. Many protest organisers believed the positive message from low-key protests during the week had been wrecked by illegal action, which they said could be used to justify the heavy police presence in Broome.
The state government and police command had been criticised during the week for spending $1 million on a 10-day police operation that, until yesterday, had appeared to be unnecessary.
The indigenous politics surrounding the James Price Point project have become tangled with a former joint native title claim over the area now split into two.
The Kimberley Land Council still has a $1.5 billion compensation package agreement with Woodside if the James Price Point project goes ahead. But the Goolarabooloo group has withdrawn from the KLC umbrella and lodged its own claim, forcing the state government and the company to negotiate.
Goolarabooloo matriarch Teresa Roe is the daughter of Paddy Roe, the traditional leader whose bones are buried in the sand dunes at the James Price Point site. Standing on the dunes at James Price Point yesterday, she said: “I am crying for my country. We are going to fight really hard to keep that country alive. I don’t want it to be destroyed just for money. I don’t want the money; I want my country.”
A spokesman for the KLC was not available to comment.
Mrs Roe’s son, Joseph Roe, is recognised as the senior law man for the Goolarabooloo and is leading the legal fight to stop the Woodside development.
Lawyers for the Goolarabooloo said last night they had written to directors of Woodside and its joint-venture partners, repeating a warning that they might be personally liable for criminal action if the company went ahead with a planned work program to test drill in the sand dunes.
A letter was first sent on November 25 last year, putting directors on notice about the cultural heritage sites including songlines and a number of specific areas.
Goolarabooloo lawyer Andrew Chalk said: “If they go ahead with the drilling program they could be committing an offence under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972.
“I have written to the company directors to remind them that if work is carried out with their actual knowledge they may be personally liable.”
Mr Chalk said another letter had been sent to federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, asking that he act on an application for emergency protection of the area under section nine of the Heritage Act. An application for a 30-day protection order was first made in July last year. Woodside said last night it had the “relevant consents and approvals required for the current program of engineering and environmental studies within the Browse LNG Precinct”.
“We acknowledge that some people are opposed to the project but there are many people in the Kimberley who are looking forward to the employment and economic benefits that would flow if it proceeds,” Woodside said.