Separating claims would cost $1bn in benefits

Aboriginal groups at odds over the James Price Point site marked for a $35 billion gas hub have withdrawn a bid to splinter native title claims after the West Australian Government and the project’s operator Woodside Petroleum threatened to suspend more than $1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 that there are long standing differences of opinion over the cultural significance of the claim site, which includes James Price Point, between the Goolarabooloo and the Jabirr Jabirr people of the Kimberley region.

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

The move was understood to have seen both groups entitled to participate separately in future negotiations over the Browse liquefied natural gas hub proposal.

However, moments before going to court today, those behind the decision to splinter buckled under pressure from the WA government and Woodside to withdraw the application, leaving the conflicted groups to remain as the one negotiating body.

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

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

The groups were served with default notices in relation to the previous Browse Precinct Agreement, estimated to be worth about $1.5 billion, as well as 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.”

Kimberly Land Council chief executive Nolan Hunter said the “extreme pressure from the State Government and Woodside has taken its toll on the Named Applicants,” in a statement after court.

“As a result, they instructed the KLC to withdraw the Discontinuance Application and hold an entire Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr native title claim group meeting to decide whether the group should split and lodge individual native title claims, or if it should remain together as one group.

“Native title is important to the Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr people and needs to be determined to provide certainty to the group and resolve any internal issues.”

The validity of any state agreements signed by the group is expected to be challenged in the coming weeks.

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