After stalled negotiations between the Kimberly Land Council (KLC) and the oil and gas company Woodside, Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett has taken the scandalous decision to compulsorily acquire land at James Price Point. The land, which is 60 kilometres north of Broome, is wanted for a new gas hub that is set to make the energy giant billions of dollars in profits.
The move has sparked outrage in the local Aboriginal community and opposition is growing across Australia including within the trade union movement. In an encouraging sign the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) has resolved not to support the project unless agreement is reached with the local Aboriginal community. The AMWU is also meeting with other unions to gather support.
Barnett highlighted the pro big business nature of his government by hanging the threat of compulsory acquisition over the entire negotiation process. This project is not about improving the lives of Aboriginal people. Rather it is about raking in massive profits for the big resource companies. In the words of KLC chief Wayne Bergman “This is outrageous. This only provides certainty for a rich mining company to make billions of dollars for their shareholders”.
The James Price Point episode demonstrates the paternalistic attitude of the state government when it comes to Aboriginal people. In touting the job opportunities the hub would bring to the area, Barnett claimed he “cannot simply allow further generations on welfare dependency” adding that he had been “remarkably patient”.
However, at the heart of the dispute is not job opportunities (a problem that is not solved even if the project is to go ahead) but the issue of land rights for Aboriginal people verses the profits of the big companies. Around 60% of mining activity occurs adjacent to Aboriginal land. Big business is desperate to get its hands on this land where they can make massive profits at the expense of ordinary people.
The scene is reminiscent of the 1980’s Noonkanbah dispute where the Court Liberal Government allowed resource company AMAX to drill for oil at a sacred Aboriginal site against the wishes of local people. In that dispute the community mobilised with union support and in a heroic fight was for a time able to stop the drilling operation.
As we saw in the Noonkanbah dispute governments can be forced to retreat in the face of mass action from ordinary people. What will be required once again is a joint campaign by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, as well as the active involvement of the trade unions.
The Socialist Party opposes the compulsory acquisition of James Price Point and stands for full land rights for Aboriginal people. This must be part of a program to solve the problems Aboriginal people endure under capitalism including the provision of decent healthcare, housing, job opportunities and education. Aboriginal people need to have control over their own affairs in order to ensure that their needs are put before big business profits.
By SP reporters