Kim Beazley urges Tanya Plibersek to reject Woodside LNG plant extension

<span>Kim Beazley co-signed a letter comparing the battle to save the Murujuga cultural landscape to that of the Hawke government’s decision to save the Franklin River in Tasmania.</span><span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
Kim Beazley co-signed a letter comparing the battle to save the Murujuga cultural landscape to that of the Hawke government’s decision to save the Franklin River in Tasmania.Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Former Labor leader Kim Beazley has joined other ex-ALP leaders in calling on the federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, to protect culturally important Indigenous rock art on Western Australia’s Burrup Hub by refusing to extend the life of a major fossil fuel development by nearly 50 years.

Beazley, former WA Labor premiers Carmen Lawrence and Peter Dowding, and ex-ALP national president Barry Jones have signed a letter to Plibersek asking her to reject Woodside’s attempt to extend the life of the North West Shelf liquified natural gas (LNG) processing facility until 2070.

The letter, also signed by Indigenous elders, scientists and crossbenchers, said the LNG plant could lead to 4.3bn tonnes of CO2 once the gas was exported and burnt, and this impact on the climate would be “several times greater than the combined savings expected from all climate policies introduced by the Albanese government from now until 2030”.

“On this ground alone, the proposal should be rejected,” it said.

Related: Woodside LNG: Australia’s ‘biggest’ contribution to climate crisis a step closer to 50-year extension

It said the plant was also likely to have a “profound and irreversible” impact on the Murujuga cultural landscape, which has been proposed for a world heritage listing and includes more than 1 million ancient petroglyphs, making it “the largest and oldest outdoor art gallery on earth” and “one of the world’s most significant cultural heritage landscapes”.

“It includes the oldest known depictions of the human face, and a documented record of over 50,000 years of continued coexistence between Aboriginal people and their physical and spiritual environment,” the letter said.

The extension of the life of the LNG plant is being considered by the WA appeals convener, which will make a recommendation to the state climate action minister, Reece Whitby. The project also needs federal approval. The federal environment department has paused its assessment after asking Woodside for more information.

Beazley was a senior minister under Bob Hawke, deputy prime minister under Paul Keating, and the Labor leader for nearly eight years between 1996 and 2006. The letter he signed is dismissive of assessments of the Burrup Hub undertaken by Woodside and the WA government, describing them as “parties with declared interests in the ongoing proliferation of industry on the Burrup”.

It said Plibersek had a unique responsibility to ensure the protection of Australia’s “most precious heritage places for current and future generations”, and compared it to the Hawke government’s decision to save the Franklin River in Tasmania from being dammed.

A spokesperson for Plibersek said her legal responsibility in assessing developments meant she could not comment on the specifics of the proposal, but the government was strongly committed to protecting the Murujuga cultural landscape and proud to help nominate it for inclusion on the world heritage list.

Related: Tanya Plibersek urged to protect Indigenous rock art up to 50,000 years old by blocking fertiliser plant

“This precious part of Western Australia is of immense cultural and spiritual significance with thousands of years of continuous culture and practice,” they said. “It is a spectacular and deeply important area that deserves to be recognised for its significance.”

Plibersek’s spokesperson said the WA government had announced there would be no further new development on the Burrup Peninsula and that 254 hectares would be transferred to the Murujuga national park, including four land parcels that had previously been set aside for industry.

The Burrup Hub gas expansion consists of six projects that each need separate approval. An Australian Conservation Foundation report last week found the full expansion, including opening the Browse and Scarborough gas fields, could be the southern hemisphere’s largest new fossil fuel project.