24/06/2010 - 00:00

CME wants in on Kimberley talks

24/06/2010 - 00:00


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THE Chamber of Minerals and Energy has called for an informed and equitable development policy for the vast Kimberley as both the state and federal governments position themselves for potentially divisive debate on the region’s future.

CME wants in on Kimberley talks

THE Chamber of Minerals and Energy has called for an informed and equitable development policy for the vast Kimberley as both the state and federal governments position themselves for potentially divisive debate on the region’s future.

A CME position paper on the Kimberley seeks to lay some groundwork ahead of two key reports, which could influence development in the region, especially with the likelihood of a forthcoming federal election in which the green vote could be vital.

The most broad-reaching of these is likely to be the federal government’s West Kimberley National Heritage assessment of more than 20 million hectares, which is due to provide a report to Environment Minister Peter Garrett by the end of the month.

While views within the resources industry differ on the impact of the assessment, some are concerned federal Labor might choose to act quickly and accept most if not all of the recommendations in a bid to shore up the green vote in the coming election.

The most pessimistic believe the federal government has already written-off Western Australia after the torrid seven weeks of bad press it has received over the resources tax it launched with the May budget.

The state government is understood to be watching the federal position closely.

“The interesting political aspect from our perspective is something is coming; it will allow the government to paint itself green because it is a long way away from all of its voter base,” a government insider said.

Insiders suggest there is uncertainty about whether the state will launch its own policy before Mr Garrett acts, or wait and see how far the federal government goes.

Having received a consultation report from a committee chaired by former senator Chris Ellison last year, the WA government is developing its own Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy, budgeted to cost $9 million, which will pave the way for the state’s approach to development in the region.

A spokesman for the Environment Minister Donna Faragher said the release of the strategy was a priority but the timing was dependent on getting sign-off across all relevant areas of government.

However, at least one isolated element of the strategy has already been made public. Among the state budget announcements, Ms Faragher said a conservation priority was the creation of a new marine park in Camden Sound, a key nursery for humpback whales. It’s the first such protected area along the Kimberley coast and forms a core part of the state’s strategy for the region.

The challenge for the resources industry is that there is a possibility of a big area being subject to heritage values, which then increases the hurdles companies have to jump to get a project under way.

The CME report shows that mining is already the biggest economic contributor to the region.

The report argues that a holistic approach needs to be taken to the development of the Pilbara because mining and energy offer significant economic and social benefits if harnessed properly. Among its specific recommendations, the chamber wants a whole-of-government approach to development and the encouragement of partnerships between different industries, traditional owners and private conservation groups to deliver benefits for everyone in the region.

For instance, the CME report specifically suggests better understanding between the resources and tourism sectors to “ensure they co-exist in a manner that does not limit each other’s opportunities, and instead generates synergies for the region”.

The CME wants better research undertaken into the geology and ecology of the region to deliver a better understanding of the Kimberley.

The industry group also wants strategies for housing and infrastructure developed and implemented.

“If we all work together we can really deliver on sustainable development in the Kimberley,” CME executive officer, environment and land access, Regina Flugge, said.

One operator in the area, Buru Energy, is generally unconcerned by the prospective policy focus on the Kimberley.

Buru executive director Eric Streitberg believes that the state approval process is stringent enough already, which would make new federal rules more of an inconvenience than a big obstacle to development for miners.

Mr Streitberg noted that a vast area of land being assessed was for Aboriginal heritage, rather than specific sites, which did create some uncertainty with respect to its potential impact on mining.

“Most of the heritage values they are picking up are pretty generalised cultural values,” Mr Streitberg said.

“There are very few specific landscape values which people in our industry would be most worried about. Our main concern is it introduces another layer of bureaucracy and approvals and those kinds of things.”



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