February 11, 2012 12:00AM
Derby Shire president Elsia Archer says the town is desperate for a developer to build a port to service export industries. Picture: Colin Murty Source: The Australian
FORMER ALP national president Warren Mundine and wealthy Perth dealmaker John Poynton are behind a plan to promote indigenous investment by building a $600 million port near the Kimberley town of Derby to service the massive offshore oil and gas industry.
But the plan could spark a fresh stoush with green groups over the industrialisation of the Kimberley, which boasts vast unexplored deposits of coal, bauxite, uranium and iron ore that could one day be shipped out through a new port.
A supply base at Point Torment, 30km north of Derby, would be aimed initially at servicing Woodside Petroleum’s planned $40 billion Browse liquefied natural gas project near Broome, which has attracted opposition from environmentalists who say the Kimberley should remain undeveloped.
West Australian Greens MP Robin Chapple said any development at Point Torment, which he described as a pristine piece of coastline, would be “another nail in the coffin for the Kimberley”.
Mr Chapple called on West Australian Premier Colin Barnett to reject the plan. “It flies in the face of what the Premier has said — that we wouldn’t have any further industrialisation of the Kimberley,” he said.
Mr Barnett has expressed support for a supply port to service the LNG industry at Point Torment, saying it should not be built at Broome because of the need to preserve the town’s tourism industry.
He told The Weekend Australian the government had held talks with firms with petroleum interests in the Browse Basin, off the Kimberley coast, to determine their interest in using Point Torment, but “in reality it will be a commercial decision which drives future development”.
Leading Perth-based investment bank Azure Capital, which is run by Mr Poynton, is behind the Point Torment plan. It is understood a Malaysian investment consortium has expressed an interest in helping to develop such a project.
The plan is being driven by an Azure director, indigenous leader Clinton Wolf, and forms part of the bank’s efforts to identify investment opportunities that would benefit Aborigines and involve them as shareholders.
A company called Point Torment Supply Base has been set up to examine the viability of building the facility. The directors are listed as Mr Mundine, Mr Poynton, Mr Wolf and fellow Azure Capital director Simon Price.
Mr Wolf said the plan was at a preliminary stage and would only go ahead if it was economically viable and was supported by traditional owners and other stakeholders.
But he said talks would be held soon to outline the proposal and get feedback from key players.
Mr Mundine, who chairs the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, said he believed a new supply base and port facility at Point Torment could help the development of the Kimberley’s huge mineral reserves.
He became a director because he wanted to ensure that any development benefited Aborigines. “This is about closing the gap, it’s about Aboriginal people having skin in the game,” he said. “This type of project needs to go ahead otherwise you will keep people in poverty.”
He said the Kimberley was bigger than most European countries and that Australia’s environmental laws were strong enough to ensure responsible development.
Shire of Derby president Elsia Archer said the town was desperate for a developer to build a port, which could also be used for the region’s live cattle exports.
A WA government report in 2005 identified Point Torment as a suitable site for heavy industry, suggesting it could be home to an alumina refinery, which would be underpinned by bauxite mining on the Mitchell Plateau in the northern Kimberley. It said the West Kimberley had deposits of diamonds, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, silver, nickel, uranium, coal, tin, mineral sands and onshore petroleum.
Oil company Buru Energy recently announced a major discovery in the Canning Basin area of the Kimberley, prompting WA Resources Minister Norman Moore to say last month he expected an exploration surge. But the viability of a supply base at Point Torment will be linked to whether Woodside and other LNG companies, including Shell and Japan’s Inpex, support it.
There is speculation that Shell plans to use ports in Broome and Darwin to support its Prelude LNG project, while Inpex is said to have settled on Darwin.