May 13: MORE than 600 people have gathered outside Broome police station in the Kimberley in a showdown with authorities over a proposed gas hub.
An estimated 250 police with riot gear started arriving in the coastal town on Friday night in what residents say is a pre-emptive move to clear protesters from the controversial James Price Point gas hub site 60km north of town.
Residents said they feared police would move in as early as Monday morning to physically remove protesters from the Woodside Petroleum site, as a Wednesday deadline looms for a Broome Shire move-on notice to clear camps in the area.
“The community is feeling like they’re in lock-down here,” a Broome resident, who did not wish to be identified, told AAP today.
“We’re expecting a showdown tomorrow morning.
“It could be tomorrow, Tuesday or Wednesday, because the Shire has instructed one of the protest camps to be removed by Wednesday.”
The resident said police with riot gear continued to fly or be bussed in from Perth and regional centres, with another 60 arriving on Saturday – bringing the estimated total to 250 officers
He said the heavy police presence in the normally quiet tourist town was “unprecedented since the Noonkanbah dispute”, referring to the violent clashes of the 1970s and 80s between WA police and protesters near Fitzroy Crossing, when oil company AMAX was given state approval to drill on an Aboriginal sacred site.
The James Price Point dispute has many parallels with Noonkanbah, with the WA government locked in battle with conservationists, local Aborigines and other Kimberley residents over plans to compulsorily acquire the site for a $30 billion liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plant.
Lead developer Woodside has argued it will inject much-needed funds into the local economy, while those opposed claim the site is culturally and environmentally significant with better alternatives, such as existing gas plants in the Pilbara.
WA Premier Colin Barnett claimed on Friday some of those now picketing the site were “professional protesters”, but another Broome resident, Anne Poelina, said most were locals who did not want the project to destroy their pristine environment or disrupt the town’s unique way of life.
“We are the families of Broome residents, we are not professional protesters, and we are concerned about what is coming,” Ms Poelina told AAP.
“This is going to be the biggest industrial precinct in the world, and it will have an impact on the families and the environment.”
While many of the 600 who gathered outside Broome police station this morning left flowers and gifts for the riot squad officers “to give to their mums on Mother’s Day”, some were not happy police did not go outside to meet with them.
“The sergeant on the desk said he didn’t even have five minutes to come and speak to the community of Broome and take (a prepared) letter,” Mitch Torres said.
A Broome police spokeswoman said the crowd had gathered peacefully outside and had started to disperse by early afternoon.
She would not comment further.