Controversy halts Browse verdict

29 Jun, 2012 12:33 PM
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The proposed Woodside gas hub James Price Point in the Kimberley. Photo: Angela Wylie
The proposed Woodside gas hub James Price Point in the Kimberley. Photo: Angela Wylie

THE Western Australian environment minister has questioned the legality of the environmental watchdog's review of a proposal for a $35 billion gas hub in the Kimberley, throwing a spanner into plans for the controversial recommendations to be made public this week.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) was due to release its recommendations on the Woodside Petroleum-operated Browse liquefied natural gas project on Friday.

But in a statement Thursday evening, environment minister Bill Marmion said, in light of "public statements made this week questioning the appropriateness of the EPA's processes", he had sought legal advice.

The decision follows revelations that the EPA's verdict on the project would be made by one man alone, after four of the five-person EPA board reported serious conflicts of interest.

On Tuesday, the EPA chairman and only board member without a conflict, Paul Vogel, said it was an unusual situation, but that people across several state government departments had been aware of it for months.

However, a spokesperson for Mr Marmion said when the EPA spoke with him in February, the "potential conflicts" were only raised as a "potential issue".

EPA deputy chairman Chris Whitaker and board member Denis Glennon were excluded earlier this year, because both hold shares in Woodside through self-managed superannuation funds.

Fellow board member Rod Lukatelich was struck off because he was a current employee of BP, one of the project's joint-venture partners.

Finally, Elizabeth Carr was never included in the Browse assessment because she worked for the project's proponent, the WA Department of State Development, before joining the EPA board.

Less than a day before Dr Vogel's recommendations were due to be released, Mr Marmion said he would not allow them to be made public while he awaited the legal verdict on the assessment process.

"This proposal is extremely complex and I want to ensure due process has been followed at all levels," Mr Marmion said in the statement.

Opposition spokesperson for environment Sally Talbot today called for Mr Marmion to be stood aside over his handling of the EPA assessment.

"This is potentially a disaster for the state because it puts in doubt the validity of every EPA assessment done under this minister's watch," Dr Talbot said in a statement.

She said the matter was made worse because Mr Marmion had all week defended his handling of the conflict of interest issues, before calling for further legal advice at the last moment.

"This minister is playing Russian roulette with the future of the state," Dr Talbot said.

"He must stand aside until this mess is sorted out, and if he refuses to step aside the Premier must insist."

A Woodside spokeswoman said the company looked forward to the release of the report.

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