Backdown over James Price Point native title claim

ABORIGINAL groups at odds over the James Price Point site earmarked for a $35 billion gas hub have withdrawn a bid to splinter into separate native title claims after the West Australian government and the project’s operator, Woodside Petroleum, threatened to suspend more than $1 billion in benefits.

It is understood there were long-standing differences of opinion over the cultural significance of the claim site, which includes James Price Point, between the Goolarabooloo and the Jabir Jabir people of the Kimberley region.

But the two groups have remained on the one native title claim since the 1990s until an application was filed last week to withdraw the claim. This would have allowed two separate claims to be registered in time for the next round of land acquisition talks.

It is understood the move would have entitled both groups to participate separately in future negotiations over the Browse liquefied natural gas hub proposal.

But moments before going to court yesterday those behind the decision to splinter buckled under pressure from the state government and Woodside to withdraw the application. This left the two groups to remain as the one negotiating body.

The proposed hub at James Price Point is one option for processing gas from the Browse basin which lies off the West Australian coast, although a final investment decision is not expected from Woodside until early next year.

Representing the joint claim group, lawyer Vance Hughston told the Federal Court in Perth both sides had received letters from Woodside and the state government since the application to end the claim was lodged last week.

They were served with default notices in relation to the previous Browse Precinct Agreement, estimated to be worth about $1.5 billion, as well as served with notices to suspend their benefits under the agreement, leading up to today’s hearing.

”The applicants are no longer prepared to push ahead with this discontinuance,” Mr Hughston said by videolink.

”The applicants find themselves in an impossible situation where the stakes are so high that they’re not prepared to take this matter any further without taking instructions from the broader group.”

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