Green and Native Title concerns for Woodside

THE issues of Aboriginal rock art and Native Title threaten to derail development plans on the Burrup Peninsula, according to Woodside general manager of external affairs, Erica Smyth.

Throw in a divided local community and a series of disagreements between the local government and the State Government, and the outlook for development was less than promising, Ms Smyth said.

“There are a whole raft of issues that we have to deal with,” she told last week’s Australian Corporate Citizenship Alliance meeting.

“There is a lot of mistrust that is occurring between the local government, the State Government, through LandCorp, and the local people.”

While the issues have been part of development in the Burrup for the past 20 years, in the past few months green groups and the Aboriginal community have become increasingly concerned with the effects development will have on the area’s historic rock art.

“As we find more rocks get disturbed we could find ourselves in a position where development could stop,” Ms Smyth said.

This week the State Government claimed a major break-through in negotiations with two of three Native Title claimants on the Burrup, the Ngarluma Yindjibarndi and Yaburara Mardudhunera groups.

However the agreement was not signed by one of the members and efforts are still being made to remove the individual from the claim in the Federal Court. If there is resolution to the complex tapestry of difficulties facing developers as suggested by Ms Smyth, the State’s average growth forecasts of 3.5 per cent, outlined in the Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s quarterly WA Economic Review, should reach fruition.

But WA could face a different future without the $5 billion in infrastructure investment earmarked for the Burrup.

Historically, the prospects for success look slim. Since the 1980s, nine major projects have been shelved, with the North West Shelf joint venture headed by Woodside the only success story.

And Ms Smyth said that, with the difficult issues starting to take root in the region, the dreams of corporations seeking to place their footprint on the hard rock of the Burrup may never be fulfilled.

This is taking place against a background of an uncertain international environment, which also puts the projects under a cloud, as last week’s CCI review suggests.

“Unfortunately for WA, international factors were likely to influence a number of investment projects under consideration for the north west of the state,” the review says.

“The outlook for the resource sector is highly dependent upon these variables. While WA has a large number of major resource projects ‘possible’ in the foreseeable future, particularly in the oil and gas sector, a number of these projects require regulatory approvals and, more importantly, financial backing before they can move through to committed and commencement stages.

“This was recently highlighted by the announcement that Syntroleum was considering shelving its proposal to develop a gas-to-liquids plant in the north west of WA.”

Given the uncertainly, the chamber has forecast just 2.25 per cent growth in the 2002-03 year, a significant fall from the estimated growth outcome for 2001-02 of 6.25 per cent.

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