Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Gasploitation in Queensland

  • 20 January 2014

The Western Australian Government recently acquired 3414 hectares of land at James Price Point, near Broome. It is the latest move in the continuing saga to develop the Browse Basin's liquefied natural gas (LNG), reserves that are now likely to be processed offshore. This controversial story is being played out on the national stage by heavy hitters from Indigenous and environmental organisations, the state and industry.

On the other side of the country, the building of four LNG processing plants on Curtis Island, off Gladstone, Qld, is proceeding more smoothly. Yet, while the traditional owners of James Price Point have received international attention, Gladstone traditional owners have barely been heard.

In WA, the land use agreements struck between the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr people, the state and Woodside Energy were worth at least $1.5 billion, including land packages and funds for health, education and training. In Gladstone, the equivalent agreements are 'crumbs off the master's table', say traditional owners.

Walk through Gladstone and you feel the LNG industry's prominence: from the multiple shopfronts of gas companies including Santos, Origin and Arrow, to the lack of discussion about the negative impact that dredging is said to have on the Great Barrier Reef.

The local Indigenous people claiming ownership of Curtis Island are known as the Port Curtis Coral Coast (PCCC) people, an amalgam of the Gooreng Gooreng, Gurang, Bailai and Bunda peoples. All four LNG projects have negotiated land access agreements with this group, none of which are publically available. However, the snippets of information that I hear about them are telling.

Tony Johnson, a PCCC traditional owner, tells me that 'the four of them ... do not total $10 million. It's obscene. I couldn't honestly say that we got the best of a bad lot.' I ask a manager from Santos' Aboriginal Engagement whether he has seen the Browse agreements. They are 'very generous' he replies. I ask him whether any of the Gladstone agreements are in the same ballpark. 'No,' he says, they are in 'a different stratosphere'.

In Broome, discussions between traditional owners, Woodside and the state took years to complete, and cost at least $40 million. The Kimberly Land Council was funded to employ lawyers, media advisors, scientists and LNG industry consultants. In contrast, engagement with the PCCC was perfunctory and short. Santos had a negotiation period comprising just five meetings, prior to which the company had already worked out a reasonable 'jump-in' point