The West

Gas protesters
Protesters on the Woodside drilling rigs. Picture: Damian Kelly

UPDATE Two protesters who climbed drilling rigs at James Price Point yesterday have been arrested.

Specialist TRG officers removed one of the protesters from the drill rig this morning after she locked herself on.

Frances Myles locked herself on to the rig when about 11 police officers, including four flown in from Perth in the specialist Tactical Response Group, arrived at the campsite.

A cherry picker was used to enable police to reach the protester, who was cut free and taken to Broome police station.

Her co-protester Evan Dowlings was brought down from the rig this afternoon.

About a dozen officers, including four from a specialist rescue unit, arrived at the site about 9.20am, Broome Community No Gas Campaign spokeswoman Tessa Mossop said.

Ms Myles was charged with breach of a move-on notice, failure to obey an order given by an officer and obstructing a public officer.

She was also charged with obstructing a vehicle and interfering with the convenience, comfort or amenity of another on regulated land.

Police were unable late on Tuesday to advise what Mr Dowlings’ charges were. Both women were taken to Broome for processing.

The protesters had stopped work on Woodside’s $40 billion gas hub for more than 24 hours after scaling the rigs early yesterday morning.

Evan Dowlings and Frances Myles scaled the rigs about 5.30am yesterday after allegations "Woodside had actively sought to silence information around the heritage values of the site and the government’s repeated failure to enforce the Aboriginal Heritage Act".

Mr Dowlings and Ms Myles are not locked onto the rigs more than seven metres up, Broome local and protestor Peter Cooper said.

“They haven’t had a huge amount of sleep,” he said.

It is understood drilling work has halted because of the action.

It was revealed on the weekend the State Government withdrew written advice at Woodside’s behest about the possible existence of significant Aboriginal cultural sites at the $40 million gas hub.

According to a weekend report, Woodside sent a letter to the state government dated September 5, 2011, thanking the Department of Indigenous Affairs for withdrawing advice about the possible cultural significance of the area and requesting advice about a specific “possible” site in the vicinity of the gas hub also be withdrawn.

The Department of Indigenous Affairs has denied Woodside or the State Government sought to deliberately conceal the heritage significance of Aboriginal sites at James Price Point and defended a decision to withdraw material recognising it from the assessment process.

In Senate question time yesterday, Australian Greens senator Christine Milne said the approvals process for the gas project carried the "stench of corruption" and asked it if it had confidence in the WA assessment process.

She cited the weekend media reports had pressured the state government to withdraw written advice about the existence of Aboriginal heritage sites and that it had acceded to the request.

However, a Department spokesman said advice provided to Woodside had acknowledged the existence of 42 sites within a 713sqkm site and asked the company to avoid them in any geo-technical work undertaken.

“The Department withdrew the letter and maps as the content was - upon review – unhelpful and did not properly advise Woodside of known registered sites,” he said.

He said advice had been just that the sites were located within that area.

The protestors are also concerned about potential damage to the aquifer from the drilling, Mr Cooper said.

Police were at the site all day yesterday after issuing move-on notices to Mr Dowlings and Ms Myles, which they have ignored.

Traditional owner and Goolarabooloo law man Phillip Roe said the State government’s had failed to protect his people’s cultural heritage.

“They are the government that we voted in to represent the people of WA, to be fair and honest,” he said.
“What we are trying to achieve is for Woodside to pack up and go, so we can protect our songlines and culture,” he said.

“We appreciate people have come from all over the world to help us achieve this.”

Woodside and Police have been contacted for comment.

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