The architect of a $1billion Indigenous benefits package negotiated with the WA Government and Woodside in return for locals backing the $45billion James Price Point gas hub has lamented the “lost opportunity for my people to pull themselves out of poverty and hopelessness”.
Wayne Bergmann was head of the Kimberley Land Council and the lead Indigenous player when he tried to keep Aboriginal factions united as he negotiated a massive health, education and jobs package with Woodside and WA Premier Colin Barnett in the early days of the project.
The deal negotiated by Mr Bergmann, a part owner of the National indigenous Times, would have seen unprecedented social benefits delivered to indigenous communities right across the region.
Instead, the deal fell through, mainly due to political pressure from fly-in fly-out environmentalists, anger over a WA Government decision on the compulsory acquisition of gas hub land and a split in indigenous support for the project, fuelled by outside manipulation by Green groups, according to Mr Bergmann.
Woodside yesterday officially put their Browse Basin FLNG plan on the shelf, blaming depressed commodity prices and the current “economic climate”.
“I find it extraordinary that report after report after report reveals that one of the key issues killing my people is their sense of exclusion from the economy and lack of opportunity and jobs, yet people who live thousands of miles away in the big cities are celebrating this decision,” he said.
Although the news was hardly surprising, it was greeted with with glum resignation across Broome, where the local economy is in crisis and shops and businesses are closing down at an unprecedented rate. Elsewhere, environmentalists welcomed the decision.
The Kimberley remains crippled by poverty and hopelessness and has one of the highest youth jobless rates in the country.
“Had all this interference had not happened, we would have been in the middle of construction by now and it would have been a wonderful economic windfall for our people,” Mr Bergmann said.
As reported by the National Indigenous Times and other media outlets, the Kimberley also boasts one of the highest suicide rates in the world, the indigenous population of about 22,000 is one of the most disadvantaged groups in the country and a variety of social, educational and health targets highlighted by COAG’s Close the Gap programs are mere pipe dreams.
Just weeks ago, the suicide of a 10-year-old girl in the Kimberley community of Looma shocked the nation, while many young men and women who live in remote communities and regional towns such as Derby and Fitzroy Crossing have little hope of finding a job.
“The next time white wealthy people come to the Kimberley and tell us how to live our lives, perhaps they can stop and have a real look at what’s going on before they start their protests,” he said.
“I still seethe over the role the Greens played in dividing our people and our community and turning Aboriginal family against family, particularly in Broome.
“They made a deal with Aboriginal people at the start of the process but then broke that deal when a majority voted in favour of the gas hub, which went against their idea of what was good for us. They manipulated people, they caused trouble and they had a compliant media who they led around by the nose.
“Where are they now? Are they here? Of course not. Do they have to deal with the constant social problems, such as suicide and homelessness that comes with not being part of the economy? Of course not.
“The non-believers haven’t taken responsibility for their actions. They have still not come up with the solutions to give us jobs. They have left us for dead.”