The Guardian • Issue #2091

Offshore gas ‘Fundamental power imbalance’

Save our Songlines

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2091

Raelene Cooper. Photo credit: Amelia Searson, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Mardudhunera woman, Federal Court victor and former Chair of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, Raelene Cooper, has released her submission to the Federal government’s Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (OPGGS) regulatory review of offshore gas approvals instigated by the Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King in Perth and sets out Woodside’s history with Murujuga traditional custodians.

This review into federal offshore regulator NOPSEMA’s requirements for environmental approvals and consultation with traditional custodians followed an extensive lobbying campaign from the gas industry, which was sparked by Cooper’s victory over Woodside in the Federal Court in September last year that forced a stop to their seismic blasting off the Pilbara coast.

A week after Cooper’s Federal Court victory, gas giant Santos wrote to Minister King urging immediate reform of consultation requirements to prevent “ongoing delays” to environmental approvals, initiating an escalating pressure campaign from the gas industry and its lobbyists to weaken regulatory requirements for consultation with relevant people including traditional custodians.

Last month, while the Minister’s own review into NOPSEMA regulations is still ongoing with submissions extended until 8 March, Minister Madeleine King introduced amendments to sideline Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and the Act to fast-track approvals of gas projects, which Cooper described as yet another attempt to avoid consulting Aboriginal people.

In her attached submission to the OPGGS review, Mardudhunera woman and former Chair of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation Cooper sets out the history of her people’s consultation with Woodside over decades of development of their Burrup Hub gas project on top of sacred Murujuga rock art and songlines.

“I would like to tell the story of what consultation looks like when a huge powerful resource company, backed by the state government, has no consideration for people or cultural heritage, has no consideration for its impacts on families and communities,” Cooper states.

“There has been a lot of talk from Woodside and other oil and gas companies recently about consultation with Aboriginal people, and cultural heritage holding back their projects, causing delays and costs.”

“For decades these companies have been ignoring us or paying lip service to our rights and interests. Now that we have been able to assert those rights in a court, they are claiming that what few rights we have should be taken away, withdrawn. This is the way these companies have always behaved, I am not at all surprised that they continue to behave this way.”

“Within my lifetime I have seen my cultural heritage desecrated and destroyed by Woodside and other companies on the Burrup. This is done with the support and assistance of governments who believe that my culture, and its World Heritage status is worth nothing against the corporate interests of multinational gas companies like Woodside.”

“The government is seeking to reform regulations that are already too weak to protect us. Consultation by Woodside is conducted in a fundamental power imbalance. Information is withheld, so that custodians and community never have a proper understanding of the impacts on our heritage and cannot undertake the appropriate cultural processes to make decisions.”

“This is a story that has been unfolding for the best part of my adult life, as I have watched while Woodside gradually destroyed the place that is so sacred to me and my family. It is a story about the ongoing arrogance of a company, and refusal to acknowledge or consult my people in meaningful ways that respect our rights and culture.”

“I was there when my mother, a respected Elder in our community, watched and cried as Woodside bulldozers destroyed hundreds of rock carvings to build its dirty gas plants. I was there when the WA government and their lawyers brought a ‘Compulsory Acquisition Order’ to take the lands of the Burrup for Woodside to use and destroy however they wished. And I was there when the government delayed the World Heritage process for years to ensure industry was not impacted by its protections while our universal heritage values were degraded and destroyed.”

Save Our Songlines

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