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Broome Community Protest
HON ROBIN CHAPPLE(Mining and Pastoral)[10.02 pm]: On Tuesday, 5 July, Premier Colin Barnett, at the behest of Woodside, sent a contingent of around 80 riot police to Broome to break up a peaceful community protest. Members of the community who had repeatedly called on both the state government and Woodside to comply with the Aboriginal Heritage Act were pushed, shoved, dragged and bullied on that day.
Jan Lewis, a 60-year-old semiretired consultant and former commonwealth public servant —
The PRESIDENT: Order! I am sorry, a member just moved between the member on his feet and me in the chair. That is not the done thing, as the member will know. I was not having a go at you, member on your feet; it was the person in front of you.
Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Jan Lewis, a 60-year-old semiretired consultant and former commonwealth public servant, was one of those arrested. She pleaded guilty on the day of her court appearance and offered the following statement. According to my notes, she said —
“I have lived in Broome since 1998, prior to that in Wyndham and Kununurra. It is my intention to spend the rest of my life here, in the home I have purchased and in the environment that I love.
I have never previously been arrested or charged with any criminal activity. Most of my time is now devoted to self-funded bird research.
The decision to take non-violent direct action on Tuesday July 5th was not made lightly. I felt I had no other option as the normal checks and balances that govern a resource development are absent in the current situation. When the WA government is the developer and controls the departments that should watch over environmental and cultural heritage, when the media is only interested in reporting sensations rather than investigating a situation, when taking legal action —
The PRESIDENT: Order, members! I am sorry to interrupt again, but would the members in front of the member on his feet show him a little courtesy and cease their private conversations.
Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: My notes continue —
when taking legal action is beyond my financial means, what other option do I have but civil disobedience?
On July 5th I sat on the Manari Road and refused to move because I believed the actions that Woodside and their contractors proposed to take were both illegal and immoral.
Illegal because they did not have the permits required to disturb known Aboriginal heritage sites. Immoral because the proposed project had not yet had environmental sign off and may not receive approval.
I believe what occurred subsequent to my arrest proved my decision to be correct. Sacred cultural heritage sites were bulldozed and a healthy bilby colony has been confirmed.
So, yes I plead guilty to failing to obey an instruction from a police officer, but I believed and continue to believe, that the reality of the situation justified my action.”
Also, local businesswoman Alison Southern pleaded not guilty to the offence of obstructing a public officer. She is listed to appear in court again on 9 September. According to my notes, this is how she described her experience of what has become known as “Black Tuesday” —
“Arriving at the blockade in the crisp dawn light, the mood was frightening, electric, emotional and deeply shocking. People were chanting and singing. Loudspeakers were blaring. I recognized neighbours, old friends, business associates, many people I would not have thought would come easily to such a confrontation. These were ordinary Broome people, defiant with the moral courage of people outraged that they had not been consulted about something which would completely change their lives. Before us was a large contingent of riot police in their full riot regalia, as well as the kind and familiar boys in blue. Around the corner was a line of bulldozers and heavy earth moving, —
waiting to move in. The police were brought in to this peaceful little town to protect the interests of an oil and gas company about to desecrate sacred sites. It was time to make a stand. I sat on the road in solidarity with old friends, proud and caring Broome women, mothers and grandmothers, business owners and good citizens of all colours, including law keepers for this country. We sat peacefully, singing, crying, holding on to each other’s arms until one by one we were arrested and taken away to the waiting paddy wagons. Later that day after many more arrests, the machines moved in and utterly destroyed a sacred site and artifacts looked after by the Roe family, the traditional custodians of this place. The women wept. The violation had begun. The land began to bleed.
I am deeply ashamed of the WA government which has no right to sacrifice the Kimberley, our land, our town, our livelihoods, our way of life, our heritage, spoiling these for future generations of West Australians and travelers from all over the world. They have failed to consult or to treat us with any respect. They have failed us.”
Further, Carmel Leahy, a teacher and linguist who has worked in the Kimberley for more than 30 years, explains why she sat on the road. According to my notes, she writes —
“On Tuesday July 5, I sat on Manari Road and refused to move for police. I was arrested and charged. My small, unlawful act was a rather pitiful attempt to stop another, much bigger injustice that, if allowed to go unchecked, will adversely affect the Broome community for generations to come.
The Government’s response to questions in Parliament … had led me to the conclusion that the work Woodside wished to do with their bulldozers and drills was illegal and that the WA Parliament had no power to stop this illegal work. On that day, as far as I could see, Woodside were attempting to break the law and, with the active intervention of our Premier Colin Barnett, use the justice system to bully the Broome Community and have their way.
The Broome Community has never been consulted about its position on the gas hub. In an effort to have their say 3,000 Broome families signed a petition opposing an industrial precinct on their doorstep. While Colin Barnett sent the riot squad to remove the community blockade, a group of Aboriginal people took the petition to Canberra.
In a whole month of blockading the road Woodside and the State Government did not once try to negotiate a solution. Despite a huge community effort to stop the premature clearing and allow the voice of the Broome community to be heard, they ran roughshod over local community wishes and State law and proceeded to destroy precious habitat.
I have spent 25 years in Kimberley classrooms. My students will tell you I have never tolerated bullying. Our Premier is proving himself to be a bully where Broome is concerned. Woodside is standing right with him, pushing the Broome community aside.
I sat on the road to call a halt to this bullying.”