FOUR CORNERS' "RUSH TO RICHES" AIRS JUNE 21st
ABC TV’s Four Corners returns to the Kimberley gas issue as the focus of their episode airing this Monday. Please see the show’s brief below. Rush to Riches Reporter Debbie Whitmont goes to the north-west coast of Western Australia to talk to the people at the centre of a bitter dispute over the location of a gas processing plant the mining company says will be worth $50 billion over the next thirty years. Twelve months ago this appeared to be a deal with something for everyone, now the Premier of the state says if necessary he’ll compulsorily acquire the land. How did it come to this and why do some Indigenous land owners feel betrayed by their own people? It’s remote, it’s untouched and the land and coast of the Kimberley in north-western Australia makes up one of the last remaining wilderness areas in the world. Now it’s the centre of a major battle between the land’s traditional owners, a resource giant and the State Government. The Government and Woodside Petroleum want to build a massive gas processing plant at James Price Point on the Kimberley coast. That would mean a major road to the site, a massive jetty jutting out into the sea and a processing plant that looks like the internals of a refrigerator; so big it can be seen from space. Many Indigenous people in the Kimberley region support the idea. They point out that over the next 30 years more than one billion dollars will be paid to the community by the company and the Government. Supporters believe that by accepting the deal Aboriginal people can take control of their lives. “We believe that this project is about creating our own opportunities. We’re trying to get a deal that actually establishes a foundation that leaves a legacy for the future generations.” Other Indigenous families are not so sure. Joe Roe says he represents the families with rights to the land where the gas plant will actually be built. He says the land holds great significance for his people. Joe Roe takes reporter Debbie Whitmont out onto the rocks above the high-tide mark to show her the remarkable array of fossils and dinosaur footprints in the massive black stones that surround the point. Setting aside their significant scientific value, he says these fossils are part of the song cycle and tribal stories his people are trying to maintain. The last thing he wants is a development that will destroy that heritage: “I’ve got to stand up like I always say and fight to protect things like this, it’s been handed down from generation to generation.” Joe Roe claims the Kimberley Land Council, that is supposed to represent the local landholders, has ignored the rights of his people so they can negotiate a multi-million dollar compensation deal that will benefit groups that live miles away from the development. He argues that a crucial vote taken to give approval to the development was flawed. The Western Australian Government is the other key player. Premier Colin Barnett has made it clear he wants the development to go ahead. Calling the area of James Price Point an “unremarkable bit of land”, he argues that the development can help Aboriginal people manage their own lives, giving them jobs, health care and housing they’ve never had before. “High rates of unemployment, poor education, poor health standards, domestic violence, abuse and neglect of children. Am I as the Premier of Western Australia going to sit back and say I’m going to give up the opportunity to help those people? I’m sorry. I will not do that.” For the Premier the bottom line with this development is simple: if local Indigenous groups can’t agree on a deal that would allow the plant to be built, the government will make arrangements to acquire the land. In the end the matter will almost certainly be settled in court. But what does this story say about the value of land rights? The traditional owners of the land in the Kimberley may have land rights, but what precisely are their entitlements? If they are unable to reject a development proposal, is their only option to simply take the cash? “Rush to Riches” goes to air on the 21st June at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on the 22nd June at 11.30pm. Also available on iView.