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Woodside correspondence details offers to meet Traditional Owners before Scarborough legal action

David Prestipino -

Legal submissions released by the Federal Court before its landmark decision last Thursday to block Woodside Energy undertaking seismic testing for its Scarborough LNG project off the Pilbara coast show attempts by the company to consult with First Nations campaigners.

Woodside's now invalidated Scarborough Seismic Environment Plan details efforts to consult with Save Our Songlines (SOS) since November 2021, which were ramped up after an initial meeting in Karratha in October 2022 with Ms Cooper and other Indigenous campaigners that did not proceed at the last minute due to lawyers for SOS being unavailable.

Woodside met with SOS in March 2023, the first time the company and Mardudhunera woman Raelene Cooper had met in person since the initial identification of Save Our Songlines in November 2021.

Submissions from Woodside to the Federal Court showed there had been five meetings, seven phone calls and more than two dozen emails and letters as part of its engagement with Save Our Songlines since last April.

Woodside offered to arrange fortnightly meetings to support consultation, "However, Ms Cooper declined that offer and stated she would need at least six weeks to process the information and respond," an affidavit from a member of Woodside's Indigenous affairs team states.

Ms Cooper told The Weekend Australian that: "Consultation is a process where both parties are informed of what activities, what responsibilities, what their obligations are, and what their projects are entitled to and what they are actually doing, so the other parties can then contribute their information and consult with all parties, and allowing them to hear the concerns and the issues that individuals may have."

National Indigenous Times has contacted SOS for further comment.

Woodside had been hoping to begin underwater surveying for the US$12 billion project off the Burrup Peninsula, 375km offshore, earlier this month, but was forced to delay those plans after a legal challenge from Ms Cooper, who argued she had not been adequately consulted.

On Thursday in the Federal Court in Perth, Justice Craig Colvin agreed, saying regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), did not have statutory power to approve Woodside's application for seismic blasting.

NOPSEMA gave approval for the seismic blasting on July 31, attaching a condition that further consultation needed to be carried out before blasting began.

Justice Colvin found NOPSEMA had erred because the consultation should have been carried out before the approval was granted and set aside the regulator's decision.

But correspondence obtained by National Indigenous Times detail meetings, meeting requests, emails and attempted engagement between Woodside and Ms Cooper.

The documents show the company's efforts to consult with Save Our Songlines, the group Ms Cooper co-founded, and also outlined Woodside's consultation with Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC), of which Ms Cooper was a previous director, and other Aboriginal corporations and Traditional Owners in the Burrup Peninsula as well as Tuna Australia and the National Energy Resource Australia.

Ms Cooper, who launched the legal action via the Environmental Defenders Office, was first consulted on Woodside's plans for its Scarborough project in 2018 when she was on the board of MAC, the body established to represent Traditional Owners in the Burrup Peninsula, where Woodside's North West Shelf and Pluto LNG plants are located.

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