Traditional Owners for the Prices Point area decided on 15 April to move forward with a process that could see the development of an LNG facility on their country.
This decision has come after more than 18 months of consultations with Kimberley Traditional Owners, facilitated by the Kimberley Land Council.
The Noonkanbah dispute of the 1970’s was a turning point in the history of the region, and of the nation. Back then, a multi-national company and the WA State Government ignored what little rights Indigenous people had.
The Yungngora people had only recently acquired a lease to their traditional country at Noonkanbah, with the hope of building a better future for themselves and their children, away from the destructive influences of living on the fringes of Fitzroy Crossing.
The State Government looked after the interests of the big company, ignored their own laws, and rode roughshod over Indigenous peoples’ interests. This action was widely condemned in the rest of Australia, and internationally. Out of this confrontation the Kimberley Land Council was established in 1978 as a way for Kimberley Aboriginal people to have a strong voice in matters that affected our lives, our culture, and our land.
By the 1990’s, groups like the Kimberley Land Council had been set up all across Australia and had significantly advanced the cause of Indigenous rights. In 1992, the Native Title Act became part of Australian Law. The Native Title Act clearly spells out the rights of Traditional Owners in relation to their traditional lands.
It is these rights, and traditional cultural processes, that underpin the process by which Traditional Owners make their decision about what happens on their country. This applies to proposals for an LNG facility on the Kimberley coast.
The old ways of Noonkanbah are behind us. Aboriginal people now have a clear right to be involved in decisions about what happens on our country. Both the current and the former State Governments are to be congratulated for supporting a process to make sure Kimberley Indigenous people have a seat at the decision-making table.
Summary of the Consultation and Decision-Making Process
The consultation process began in late 2007, with a meeting of Senior Cultural Bosses from across the whole Kimberley. This group insisted that Traditional Owners must be in a position to make informed decisions about activities on their lands. They designed the outline of a process for getting good information to people, and for giving people the opportunity to make their own decisions.
Throughout the consultation process, the KLC took instructions from Traditional Owners across the Kimberley. The Traditional Owners were organised in terms of their Native Title Claim Groups, as set out in the Native Title Act.
Senior cultural and organisation leaders met to design a fair, transparent, and culturally acceptable process for delivering Gas Consultations to affected Traditional Owners.
Senior cultural and organisation leaders met in Broome to refine and endorse the process, and to elect a ‘Senior Leadership Group’, with the responsibility of meeting with all coastal Traditional Owners to explain the process and encourage participation.
‘The Senior Leadership Group’ and KLC Chairman, CEO, and Deputy CEO travelled to each of the 14 coastal claim groups to introduce and explain the consultation process, and to encourage involvement. All Traditional Owners for each claim group were invited to participate in these meetings. Meetings were held at Kalumburu, Wyndham, Broome, Beagle Bay, One Arm Point, Mowanjum, Derby, and Bidyadanga. An extensive range of information was provided to Traditional Owners at these meetings.
The Senior Leadership Group and KLC Chairman, CEO, and Deputy CEO held meetings with groups of Claim Groups as ‘Cultural Blocs’, to consider issues and implications from development proposals that crossed over claim group boundaries, and to look at the ‘bigger picture’. Cultural Bloc meetings were held at Derby, One Arm Point, Broome, Wyndham and Kununurra. Again, all Traditional Owners for each claim group were invited to participate in these meetings, and an extensive range of information was provided. Each Claim Group was asked to elect four representatives to sit on a ‘Traditional Owner Taskforce’. Elections to this taskforce were conducted openly and transparently. Traditional Owners elected their own representatives.
The Traditional Owner Taskforce was responsible for:
1. Receiving, discussing, and analysing the range of complex information relating to gas development on the Kimberley coastline;
2. Providing feedback to their wider claim group;
3. Representing the views of their wider claim group to the Traditional Owner Taskforce
The Traditional Owner Taskforce met regularly during the gas consultation process, and directed the Kimberley Land Council to provide them with as much information as possible on all aspects of the proposed LNG development.
June – September 2008
The Traditional Owner Taskforce met on a number of occasions between June and September. A large amount of complex information was presented to the Taskforce, and members were provided with information to take back to their claim groups. The Taskforce also visited the LNG processing facility on the Burrup Peninsula in the Pilbara.
August – September 2008
Consultation meetings were held with each of the claim groups for country where potential sites had been identified (by both Traditional Owners and the State Government’s Northern Development Taskforce). These meetings provided information to, and received instruction from, Traditional Owners from those claim groups in regard to whether they did or did not want to consider an LNG hub on their country. At this stage of the process, Traditional Owners for each claim group made decisions on whether they would continue to look at the possibility of having an LNG facility on their country. From an initial list of up to 40 possible sites, and a later list of 13 sites put forward by the State’s Northern Development Taskforce, Traditional Owners elected to keep four sites on the table: Prices Point (Goolarabooloo/Jabirr Jabirr Claim Groups), North Head (Nyul Nyul Claim Group), Anjo Peninsula(Uungguu Claim Group) and Gourdon Bay (Karajarri Claim Group – later removed).
On the 6th of September, the WA State election took place, and the consultation process established by the old Government was delayed pending the policies of the new Government.
On the 15th of October, the new Premier Colin Barnett announced the State’s shortlist of sites, and nominated North Head as his preferred option. The State’s Northern Development Taskforce commenced studies for each of the sites, and called for public submissions. Traditional Owners, through the Kimberley Land Council, lodged a submission outlining our issues and concerns. Despite no clear policy position from the new Government, Traditional Owners and the Kimberley Land Council continued with the consultation process already underway.
During October, Senior Cultural bosses and Traditional Owner Taskforce members visited communities and leaseholders on the Dampier Peninsula, to let them know what was happening and to hear their issues and concerns. The Traditional Owner Taskforce was reconfigured to contain eight representatives from each of the four remaining Claim Groups.
On November 2008, the Traditional Owner Taskforce representatives from the four Claim Groups, still considering LNG development on their country, met several times. These meetings were dominated by the Premier’s announcement of his personal preference for a North Head location. The group called on the Premier to allow the process of identifying a potential site for a gas hub to continue without interference, in order to ensure that any development occurred in a socially, culturally, and environmentally sustainable and responsible manner.
Also in November, Traditional Owner Taskforce representatives met with the broad membership of each of the remaining Claim Groups, providing them with information and listening to the issues that were important to Traditional Owners. As on previous occasions, all members of each Claim Group were invited to participate in these meetings. Each Claim Group decided to leave their locations on the table for further consideration of LNG development.
December 2008 – January 2009
In December, development proponent Woodside made an offer to Traditional Owners of compensation in return for permission to establish an LNG facility on the Dampier Peninsula. This offer was not acceptable, and was rejected by Traditional Owners. The Northern Development Taskforce Report on the four remaining sites was provided to Government. The Premier Colin Barnett selected Prices Point as his preferred site. He stated that Traditional Owners had until March 30, 2009 to agree to a suitable location, otherwise he would use Compulsory Acquisition to take the land.
A combined meeting of the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr, and the Djaberra Djaberra Claim Groups was held to give instructions on how to proceed. As with all Claim Group meetings, all relevant Traditional Owners were invited to attend. At this meeting, Traditional Owners elected a Traditional Owner Negotiating Committee to act on their behalf, and instructed the Kimberley Land Council to enter into negotiations with Woodside and the State to see if a suitable agreement could be made in relation to the Prices Point site.
March – April 2009
A range of meetings involving the Negotiating Committee, Woodside, and the State Government were held during March and April. The Commonwealth Government also had an observer at these meetings.
On the 15th of April, 2009, a meeting of Traditional Owners from the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr, and Djaberra Djaberra Claim Groups was held. All appropriate Traditional Owners were invited to the meeting. Both Woodside and the State Government presented information to Traditional Owners on what they would be willing to include in any agreement. The Traditional Owners voted with a significant majority to enter into a Heads of Agreement with the State and Woodside to move forward in the process of allowing an LNG facility at Prices Point. This agreement was conditional on environmental and cultural heritage requirements being met.
What is the involvement of the Kimberley Land Council?
The Kimberley Land Council is a not-for-profit Incorporated Indigenous body, with a membership made up of Kimberley Traditional Owners, who elect a Board of Directors to make decisions about what the KLC does.
The KLC has to meet the legal requirements of the Commonwealth Government’s Corporations
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act. These requirements include running the organisation in a clear and open manner, having proper elections and governance structures, and reporting on the activities and management of the organisation.
The Kimberley Land Council is also the Native Title Representative Body for the Kimberley region, which brings certain legal responsibilities and requirements under the Native Title Act. This includes dealing correctly with Native Title Claims Groups in relation to proposals for development on their lands.
At all times, the Kimberley Land Council acts under instructions from Traditional Owners.
The Kimberley Land Council is able to bring expertise and resources to the service of Traditional Owners, in a way that Traditional Owners could not do on their own. This helps to put Traditional Owners on a level field with Governments and developers.
The Kimberley Land Council does not receive any financial or other benefits from any agreements made between Traditional Owners and Governments or developers.
The Kimberley Land Council has received funding support from the State Government to run the consultation process, and to act on behalf of the Traditional Owner Negotiating Committee. This money does not go into the KLC’s pocket; it is spent on delivering highly professional services to Traditional Owners, putting them in the best position to make their own decisions. The KLC’s only responsibility is to Traditional Owners.
Key points about the decision making process:
- The process was clear and transparent, and was driven by Traditional Owners;
- All decisions were made by Traditional Owners;
- All Traditional Owners were invited, and given every opportunity, to participate in the consultation process;
- At all times, the Kimberley Land Council acted under instructions from Traditional Owners;
- The Kimberley Land Council made its best efforts to provide information to Traditional Owners so they could make informed decisions.
- The right people made their own decisions about their own country.