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People all over the country are raising their voices against the possible destruction of James Price Point in the Kimberley.
In case you missed it with all the drama unfolding in Canberra over the past 12 months, one of the world's most untouched and iconic regions was granted National Heritage protection last August.
Australia's beautiful Kimberley, which stretches all the way from Broome, north up around the Buccaneer Archipelago, and east as far as the NT border – was declared of great national significance due to its cultural and environmental values to the nation.
It was an achievement of international significance that Tony Burke, Federal Minister for Environment, Sustainability, Water, Population and Communities, now considers one of the proudest moments of his political career. But what many Australians don't realise is that despite the National Heritage listing, parts of the Kimberley today remain under grave threat from rampant industrialisation.
The once peaceful and idyllic township of Broome has turned into something of a war zone in recent months as tensions come to a head surrounding a proposed liquefied natural gas development at James Price Point, 60 kilometres north of Broome. The development would turn the red sands of the Dampier Peninsula into the Dubai of the south and Broome itself into a fly-in fly-out mining mecca.
In what may well come to be the defining environmental protest movement of this generation – just as the Franklin was in the 1980s – people all over the country are raising their voices against the possible destruction of one of Australia's last relatively untouched natural wonderlands.
The Australian Conservation Foundation recently presented Minister Burke with close to 25,000 postcards signed by Body Shop customers calling on him to stop the industrialisation of the Kimberley before it's too late – indicative of the extent of mainstream opposition to the prospect.
However, over the past weeks, the WA Premier Colin Barnett has sent hundreds of police to the once placid town to protect the interests of the mining company Woodside, and ensure they can carry out their work without interference from peaceful protesters. One protest camp has been dismantled and another, set up by old families of Broome, remains in a state of tenuous resistance.
Is this the way we conduct business in Australia in 2012? The WA Premier has effectively sent his own army to Broome at a cost of over $1 million to Australian tax payers in order to protect the interests of one of our largest mining companies.
The scale of the proposed development is immense - $30 billion, 3,000 hectares of industrial land to be put aside, a 6km-long breakwater, and greenhouse gas pollution that is likely to double existing West Australian pollution and add 5 per cent to Australia's greenhouse pollution levels.
The coastline in question is also dotted with the world's longest chain of dinosaur footprints that would be broken by the proposed development. The fossilized footprints of 15 different dinosaur species run for 80 kilometres along the Kimberley coast around Broome. According to University of Queensland palaeontologist Steve Salisbury, who has surveyed the coastline, the dinosaur trail would inevitably be destroyed.
We fear that the proposed gas hub at James Price Point will be the thin edge of the wedge for further development that will threaten the recognised environmental values of the region. What's being proposed would be Australia's largest gas refinery, and it would also be the foot in the door for the wider industrialisation of the Kimberley.
Besides the proposed gas hub at James Price Point, mines as diverse as coal, oil, bauxite and uranium are all on the drawing board, posing a major threat to the Kimberley. The Kimberley is one of the world's last great wilderness areas, but it's currently covered in more than 700 mining tenements.
We have argued, along with many other environment groups, Broome residents, the Deputy Mayor of Broome Ann Poelina, leading Australian Businessman Geoff Cousins and many others – not that the gas extraction at Browse Basin should be shelved but that the gas should instead be piped to a more appropriate location such as the already industrialised Pilbara region.
The Australian Conservation Foundation believes that some places are too precious to lose – and the Kimberley certainly ranks as one of those places.
Wade Freeman is the Australian Conservation Foundations Kimberley Project Officer.
The article was originally published on The Drum