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Issue #1539      14 March 2012

Port Hedland residents in redevelopment battle

In the north west of Western Australia there is a mining boom under way in which the good wages paid by large mining resource companies bring workers from all parts of the state, other parts of Australia and even the world.

Mining and energy resource companies such as Fortescue Metals Group, Rio Tinto, Chevron, Woodside and BHP Billiton believe that when workers come to live in the Pilbara they will stay an average of two years to work hard, play hard, acquire savings and then be on their way.

The last thing these mining and energy companies want (apart from well resourced and militant trade unions defending workers rights) is that residents develop a sense of community and ownership of the towns where they live. This would also seem to be one of the reasons these companies and especially FMG prefer Fly-In-Fly-Out workers.

This was demonstrated recently in Port Hedland when a group of residents received word from BHP Billiton of its proposal to commence within weeks, to build a multimillion dollar boat pen at Hunt Point opposite where the concerned residents live in Richardson Street on the Port Hedland foreshore. The company needs the residents to vacate and is offering them amounts of close to $3 million each to do so.

But residents such as Bill Dziombak, Ina Bozuric and Darryl Brown, as reported in the West Australian, on February 25, want to stay put as they like the aesthetic and sense of community and place which they have lived in for some time – up to 48 years in the case of Mr Brown.

Many are also upset by the tokenistic and cavalier approach by representatives of BHP Billiton in its attempt at community consultation. The plans for the significant expansion of the harbour to build a tugboat pen for up to 24 vessels were mostly kept from public scrutiny in the private offices of BHP Billiton. The plans however, included the company’s desire to have several residents in Richardson Street, Port Hedland vacate and to this end they were offering millions so that they could proceed with their making of billions.

The expansion of the port, says a public relations manager from BHP Billiton, is necessary to prepare the port for a significant increase in the shipping of iron ore from the Pilbara hinterland to satisfy the demand for the production of steel in China, South Korea and Japan – and then shipping a lot of it back to Australia.

This development at-all-costs attitude by mining companies not only irks the locals who feel that people don’t matter to them, but will also throw up other long term problems not the least of which is, where is all the water and power going to come from to sustain all this resource development.

The state Greens Upper House MP Robin Chappell last year revealed plans by the Liberal government of Premier Colin Barnett to mine coal in the pristine wilderness area of the Kimberleys and ship it to Port Hedland to provide power to run at least one and possibly three desalination plants, as existing surface and ground water supplies in the Pilbara are barely able to keep pace with existing demand – let alone a proposed doubling of the mining of iron ore in the Pilbara.

At that rate all of the residents of Port Hedland may need to be vacated to South Hedland to escape not only the red iron ore dust but also toxic black coal dust and pollution from its use in a power station.

Another reason why Port Hedland residents who like living there may not be tempted by the large sums to vacate their houses, is the high cost of taking up alternative accommodation in Port Hedland or almost anywhere else in the Pilbara, as the prices even for a 3 bedroom 1 bathroom house can start at $700,000 and a 4x2 residence is over $1.2 million. By comparison a 4 x 2 residence in Perth can be purchased for as little as $330,000 and for $1.2 million one can buy a mansion in the genteel southwest region of Margaret River.

The Communist Party of Australia commends and supports the struggle by the residents in Port Hedland to remain in their homes against the greedy and cavalier attempts to dislodge them to make way for the expansion of the port facilities to substantially increase the capacity of the port to serve their mining interests.

The tug boat pen can be built somewhere else in the harbour, in some other way or in a scaled down version so that the amenity of the location and the lifestyles of the residents, which they have enjoyed for long, is not lost.  

Next article – The crisis is a crisis of the capitalist system – Socialism is the future! – KKE

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