Article – Kimberley gas plant protesters ‘left nothing’ for people

13 March 2015
Andrew Burrell
The Australian

THE Aboriginal leader who backed a $40 billion gas plant in the Kimberley as a way of creating indigenous jobs has attacked “extreme nutter” environmentalists who he says derailed the plan but have since done nothing to help the region’s impoverished people.

Wayne Bergmann, a businessman and former head of the Kimberley Land Council, told an oil and gas conference in Perth yesterday that suicide rates and unemployment were rising in the Kimberley due to a paucity of jobs, especially for younger people.
Telstra director Geoff Cousins and singers Missy Higgins and John Butler were among those who opposed the use of James Price Point, 60km north of ­Broome as the site for the Woodside Petroleum project.
The high-profile campaigners joined green groups in arguing against industrialisation of the remote Kimberley region, which boasts some of the world’s most spectacular wilderness areas.
Woodside abandoned its plan in 2012 and walked away from a deal with the KLC to pay $1.5bn in benefits to Kimberley indigenous groups over 30 years in exchange for use of the land at James Price Point.
The company is instead planning to build the plant to process its Browse Basin gas reserves off the Kimberley coast using floating LNG technology.
This means that only a fraction of the employment, health and education benefits promised to Aborigines will be delivered.
Mr Bergmann, who lives in Broome, yesterday said the environmentalists had left the Kimberley and their legacy was “destroying any opportunities” for Aboriginal people.
“They’re all gone but the region is still in devastation,” he said.
“We’ve still got the highest suicide rates, the lowest employment (rates).
“Geoffrey Cousins is still living in his house in Sydney — he hasn’t left anything back in our region.
“So I’m driven to create jobs because if our mob don’t have meaning in their life, these statistics are going to continue.”
Mr Cousins has previously defended his role in the campaign and accused Mr Bergmann of failing to ensure that the 2011 agreement with Woodside had a “break clause” to ensure payments would flow to Aboriginal communities even if the company chose a different site for the project.
He said Woodside had a moral obligation to fulfil its promises under the native title deal and he believed the WA government was responsible for ensuring Aboriginal people received the same health and education services that other citizens took for granted.
Mr Cousins was appointed last year as head of the Australian Conservation Foundation — the country’s largest environmental lobby group.
Mr Bergmann said since the collapse of the Woodside deal he had turned his attention to creating jobs for Aboriginal people by helping to form a maritime company that is on the verge of a major expansion.
He said the company, Aboriginal Maritime Pty Ltd, or AML, was finalising a share buyback under which its indigenous shareholders will increase their combined stake to 51 per cent.
Mr Bergmann told the Australasian Oil and Gas conference that he had been offended by claims by the Maritime Union of Australia that AML was underpaying its workers. “We’ve grown up fighting for our mob — the very last thing we are going to do is underpay our workers,” he said.
In January, the Fair Work Commission approved a four-year enterprise bargaining agreement for AML.
The MUA challenged the EBA late last year, saying that it could result in Aborigines receiving pay and conditions inferior to those of non-Aborigines.
But FWC commissioner Tim Lee found the agreement provided for pay between 20 per cent and 220 per cent above award rates.
AML is owned by several Aboriginal sporting and business identities, including former AFL stars Dean Rioli and David Wirrpanda.
Courtesy of the Australian