The West

Woodside should pay up: Bob Brown
Woodside should pay up: Bob Brown

Woodside had a moral obligation to compensate Kimberley traditional owners for processing of gas resources off the WA coast regardless of where that occurred, former Greens Senator Bob Brown said in Broome today.

As the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin sailed into view behind him at Gantheaume Point to kick off "Operation Kimberley Miinimbi", Dr Brown said Woodside should "do the right thing" and pay traditional owners, who were set to reap less than one per cent of the sale price of the gas.

"If that less than one per cent is going to be the price of this development further down the coast, let the governments ensure that it is paid to the Kimberley Land Council," he said.

"The resource is in the same place, it's off the Kimberley coast - that is a resource that should be giving a dividend to the traditional owners. We don't need this gas factory at all - but if they must have it, put it somewhere else."

Dr Brown has criticised Woodside's commissioned studies into the impacts of the gas hub on humpback whales migrating through the region as "deeply flawed".

Woodside this morning released a statement describing its study as the most comprehensive to date, involving annual aerial surveys and use of satellite tags off the Dampier Peninsula coast between 2009 and 2011.

However, Dr Brown said Woodside had estimated about 650 whales would pass within 5km of the coast in an entire season.

Community members had tracked more than 1000 whales passing in six weeks and as the ship sailed down the coast past James Price Point this morning, crew saw whales and their calves breaching close to shore," he said.

"Can the whale nursery go somewhere else - no it can't," he said.

Federal Labor Member for Fremantle Melissa Parkes put in a surprise appearance to lend her support, putting her at odds with colleague Martin Ferguson, the Federal Resources Minister who has championed the project.

Ms Parkes said she was not in Broome to "play politics" but to "add Fremantle's voice of support to a very important project."

"If we as a nation are prepared to go down to Antarctica and defend those whales from being killed by other nations, we also should be safeguarding them in our nurseries in our own backyard," she said.

Ms Parke criticised the "ill considered decisions by the State Government and a shambolic planning and consultation process" that saw four out of five of WA Environmental Protection Authority board members disqualified from voting on the project because of conflicts of interests: "This is outrageous," she said.

Ms Parke said she was confident that Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, who has the final say on approval of the $30 billion project, would "consider the needs of the whales … more than it was considered by the WA EPA".

Mr Brown will board the Steve Irwin tomorrow morning for the first voyage up to James Price Point. He said previously, the ship had been in Antarctic waters "tangling with the grenade tipped harpoons of death from the Japanese butchery of these same great whales that are off this coast".

"It's been Sea Shepherd that's gone to their rescue there it's Sea Shepherd that's now here to draw global attention to this great whale nursery," he said.

Sea Shepherd spokesman Jeff Hansen said the action would reach millions of people around the world: "This is not just a Broome concern, it's an Australian concern, it's a global concern."

Dr Brown will this afternoon meet Jabirr Jabirr traditional owners to hear their concerns about his views on the project.

Warren Greatorex, chairman of Waardi, the administration body set up to manage future benefits, said he wanted to explain the opportunities the project would bring to Aboriginal people in the region.

"If this project doesn't go ahead, we end up with nothing," he said.

Dr Brown said Premier Colin Barnett had declined his requests to meet and Woodside boss Michael Chaney had also withdrawn his offer of a meeting next month.

A record 250 appeals against the EPA's recommendation of the Browse proposal are still being reviewed.

The West Australian

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