Updated: June 26, 2012
Conflicts of interest exposed over James Price Point
The Western Australian government's ill-fated crusade to build a giant gas hub at James Price Point was dealt another blow this week, as it was revealed that four of the five members of the state's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) have been excluded from the project's assessment due to conflicts of interest.
The EPA, which was due to release its recommendations by the end of this month, has had an ongoing role in this disastrous project, which locals fear will turn the pristine Kimberley coast into just another polluted industrial zone.
It was, in fact, the same EPA, that helped to identify James Price Point (just north of Broome) as a site for the proposed project back in 2008 when they stated that "the environmental impacts and risks of locating a precinct in the James Price Point area are likely to be manageable" and that "the risk of future expansion being significantly constrained is likely to be low.”
The decision to bench four members of the EPA at this point surely begs the question – was the membership also compromised four years ago when, on the basis of a very limited desktop study, they identified James Price Point as a 'suitable' location for this highly unpopular development?
A history of incompetence
The Western Australian Government has repeatedly failed to display any sense of procedural competence or scientific rigour in relation to the environmental and cultural assessment processes at James Price Point.
- When the original draft of the assessment was released for public comment early last year, more than a thousand substantial failings were identified. These included the failure to locate a significant bilby colony, several turtle nesting sites, and what is believed to be a new dolphin species, all within the vicinity of the proposed gas hub site. Just two months ago, the EPA itself admitted that the original assessment had underestimated the scale of dredging by a whopping 65%.
- In September last year, the Western Australian Auditor General told Parliament that the government had failed to properly enforce environmental and Indigenous Heritage laws, stating “weaknesses in agency practice mean that we cannot give assurance that environmental protection conditions are being met” and that "heritage sites may have been lost or damaged without the State knowing or acting” because the government agency responsible “has not effectively monitored or enforced compliance with conditions on mines".
- In 2010, when Indigenous Traditional Owners were reluctant to back the project despite financial incentives, the Western Australian government initiated Compulsory Acquisition of Native Title rights over James Price Point. However, in December last year, the state's Supreme Court found that the government had acted illegally in this matter.
- Premier Colin Barnett recently threatened to invoke legislation that would force the project's joint venture partners – Woodside, Shell, BP, BHP and Chevron – to locate their development at James Price Point even if it was commercially disadvantageous for them to do so.
- Finally, the Western Australian Government has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to ignore the concerns of the local Broome community. The recent deployment of at 140 police (at a cost of $1 million to taxpayers) in an attempt to crush local opposition to the project demonstrates that there is no way to unscramble the state government’s tainted role in this project.
A compromised EPA
When four of five Board members are conflicted, and the Chair is undergoing a reappointment process that hinges on government recommendation, it's hard to see how anyone could have confidence in what is meant to be an independent assessment process. In light of this, The Wilderness Society is calling for the current EPA assessment to be halted, and for a new panel of uncompromised members to be appointed to carry out the assessment.
If the Western Australian government and EPA refuse this, then Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, has no other alternative than to ignore the EPA’s recommendations when forming his own view on whether the gas hub at James Price point should be approved.
Sign our petitionand stand up for the environmental and heritage values of the Kimberley.
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For more information, please contact:
The Wilderness Society WA Inc
City West Lotteries House
2 Delhi St
West Perth, WA, 6005
Phone: 08 9420 7255