Hardly a win for environmentalists, Kimberley site will have its day

So environmentalists are busy on social media celebrating their "saving" of the Kimberley as Woodside dumps the plan to process Browse Basin gas onshore at James Price Point, north of Broome.

So environmentalists are busy on social media celebrating their "saving" of the Kimberley as Woodside dumps the plan to process Browse Basin gas onshore at James Price Point, north of Broome.

Wonder if they spare any thought for the indigenous land owners who wanted the project and now won't receive the employment and billion dollars that, used wisely, could have transformed their marginalised community.

But it wasn't the anti-development campaigners who stopped James Price Point, though they certainly didn't help and might have made a marginal project more marginal. In the end, as Woodside CEO Peter Coleman made clear, it was the money: processing at James Price Point no longer adds up.

With the longer-term price of LNG under threat from unconventional sources in general and perhaps the US in particular, the escalating cost of building whopping great big things in the north-west has become prohibitive.

Part of that has been poor management, part the laws of supply and demand having their way with scarce resources in a distant and difficult environment, part a couple of greedy unions and part the strength of the Australian dollar.

Wayne Swan just throws up his hands in dismay - the Aussie is defying gravity and lower commodity prices, he says. And this bloke is the Australian Treasurer.

It's been left to the Reserve Bank to try to explain the reality: it really isn't all about us - it's about them. The US, Europe and Japan are debasing their currencies by printing money. And, no, we really wouldn't need or want to do that.

And we can't just cut our interest rates to zero either. Monetary policy is more complicated than digging up dirt and shipping it to China.

There is a Big Idea that could both exploit the strength of the Aussie and help weaken it while improving the nation's current and further economic health - it's the idea pushed to a greater or lesser extent by at least five present and former RBA directors that the federal government should borrow very, very big and invest in infrastructure.

But that's not going to happen - the politics of surplus worship are too ingrained now to permit either side to do it. And I somehow suspect the business lobby is too squarely behind the Coalition, which leads the way in spreading fear about government borrowing.

So, we have to live with a strong currency. It's probably not wildly overvalued, given the state of much of the rest of the world, and we're not the only ones with the problem.

That strong dollar has done some good things, as a couple of RBA speeches have explained, in allowing us to experience a massive commodities boom and rise in national wealth without the economy falling apart.

The Aussie remaining strong forces us to get better at what we do, it forces us up the value chain. The good companies are getting on with building smarter, more productive organisations. It's not easy and some don't survive.

Meanwhile, back of the north-west shores of Australia, Woodside's Browse Basin gas will still be developed - it's too good a resource not to - but the gas is likely to be liquefied on a massive floating platform that will be built in Asia.

It will also make more sense to manage and crew the thing out of Asia as well - cheaper and safely away from the risks posed by the predatory end of the union movement.

Yes, James Price Point is beautiful, but all of the Kimberley is beautiful - and there is a vast amount of it. Industry and rational conservationist values can co-exist.

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