Woodside has “moral obligation” to honour $1.5 billion deal: Bergmann
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Woodside has a moral obligation to provide benefits to Traditional Owners in the Kimberley region even if it takes its shelved Browse gas project offshore, Aboriginal rights advocate, Wayne Bergmann has said.
In his previous role as Chief Executive of the Kimberley Land Council (KLC), Mr Bergmann inked a deal with Woodside and the West Australian State Government, ensuring $1.5 billion worth of social benefits including jobs, as well as some cash, would flow to the local Indigenous community in exchange for allowing the development.
He is now the Chief Executive of KRED Enterprises, a charitable trust set up by the KLC and representing three Native Title groups in the region.
Mr Bergmann said Woodside would save “billions” of dollars by taking the project offshore and could therefore afford to compensate Traditional Owners.
Traditional Owners had spent a lot of time on the benefits deal, which had put them under great pressure, he said.
“For Woodside and joint venture partners to pull out after everything we’ve been through is unacceptable,” Mr Bergmann said. “We’re extremely disappointed.
“They should implement the benefits package to the full extent possible … as if they were developing at James Price Point. I believe they have an obligation morally. It’s not about our legal rights. It’s about their social licence to operate.”
The joint venture needed to hold up its end of the bargain, he said.
“Otherwise, why should Aboriginal people in the future support these big companies when you cannot trust their word?”
Mr Bergmann said he wasn’t surprised Woodside had decided against going ahead with the gas hub.
“The project was, during the negotiations, very marginal and it was going to be a tough project,” he said. “During the negotiations, the State Government and Woodside put Traditional Owners under extreme pressure and that extreme pressure produced this agreement,” he said.
“We saw the joint venture parties, saw Shell, saw Chevron, BP and none of them came to our rescue in making sure Traditional Owners were dealt with fairly. I believe it’s incumbent on those joint venture parties to ensure the benefits package is implemented to the fullest extent possible.
“You have to consider this in context of the savage way in which Aboriginal people had to negotiate. There were threats of taking the land without paying a compensation package and we were under such pressure, we had to do the very best we could.”