Activists threaten to sue WA Premier over Woodside AGM tussle

WA Premier, Roger Cook, has been hit with a defamation letter for comments around Woodside protest

ENB Staff
Protesters at Woodside AGM_Credit: Disrupt Burrup Hub

Protesters at Woodside AGM_Credit: Disrupt Burrup Hub

WA Premier Roger Cook has been hit with a defamation letter for comments about protesters representing campaign group Disrupt Burrup Hub in the West Australian newspaper after Woodside's AGM last week. 

Cook has been sent a Concerns Notice by lawyers for Emma Heyink and Tom Power, two 17-year-old Disrupt Burrup Hub campaigners, who appealed to Woodside Chairman Richard Goyder and CEO Meg O'Neill about Woodside's Browse Gas expansion by invoking the names of the executives' children at the Woodside AGM on Wednesday, April 24, direct action campaign group Disrupt Burrup Hub said in a statement on 2 May. 

The letter states that Cook has defamed Heyink and Power by participating in "confected media coverage" about the protest, with the Premier's "damaging, unsubstantiated claims" to media at a press conference on Friday April 26, noted the group.

The letter states that the Premier's claims are false and calls for WA police to investigate the two teenagers have "caused them considerable hurt, distress and anxiety" and that, should they sue the Premier, the damages awarded by a court could exceed $459,000. Noting that Heyink and Power do not want money, the letter invites the Premier to make an apology to the two Disrupt Burrup Hub campaigners, both in writing and verbally at a press conference, and to pay the children's nominal legal costs of $1, continued the campaign group.

Direct threats and intimidation?

The West Australian reported that Cook wants the police to investigate "threats" made to the children of the bosses of Woodside by the protesters. 

The newspaper said that the Two Disrupt Burrup Hub teen activists shouted the names of the children of Woodside chairman Richard Goyder and chief executive Meg O'Neill at the company's annual general meeting.

Cook described the teens' behaviour as "despicable" and an "exercise of intimidation," noted the West Australian. 

"It's outrageous. I saw in the paper today that they're saying ‘we simply wanted to say their names because we're concerned about the people of the future'. That wasn't (what they were doing) — that was a direct threat," the Premier said.

"That was a direct threat and that threat should be taken seriously by the police."

Chanting Block Browse?

Heyink and Power entered the AGM last week as proxy shareholders and invoked the names of the children of Woodside Chair Richard Goyder and CEO Meg O'Neill to protest the Browse Gas expansion, halting the AGM for several minutes while the teenage campaigners were removed by security and police while chanting "Block Browse" and "Disrupt Burrup Hub," claimed the activist group.

The group added that on Friday April 26, Cook made incorrect claims at a press conference about their protest.

Disrupt Burrup Hub describes itself as a "direct action campaign fighting to protect climate and culture from Woodside and other dirty polluters who operate at Murujuga on the Burrup Peninsula."

Cook doubles down

Following the statement released by Disrupt Burrup Hub on 2 May, Cook has doubled down on comments made against the two climate protestors by saying the naming of Woodside executives' children was "not on".

"I've made my comments and I think people would relate to the sentiment and that is to inveigle people's children in terms of a protest movement against particular individuals is not on — that's just not on," he said on 2 May, reported the West Australian.

"I won't be making further comment in relation to this as you'd expect."

Woodside chair lives to fight another day

As Energy News Bulletin (ENB) reported last week, Woodside Energy, a key player in Australia's energy sector, faced a significant setback as shareholders rebuffed its climate action strategy, underscoring growing discontent with its environmental direction, at the AGM. 

Chair Richard Goyder conveyed his disappointment following the rejection by nearly 60% of shareholders, highlighting the palpable divide between the company's vision and investor sentiments. While the shareholder vote isn't binding, it underscores a potent barometer of dissatisfaction with Woodside's strategic trajectory.

Woodside Energy's climate action plan under the microscope

The company's Climate Transition Action Plan (CTAP) was published on February 27 alongside its annual results. The plan provides details on the company's progress on Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions reductions and its targets for all three. 

The company revealed in February that it reduced its net equity Scope 1 and 2 emissions in 2023 by 12.5% below the starting base while noting that it was on course to deliver a 15% reduction by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

The company has outlined three pathways to hitting net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions from its producing and sanctioned assets by 2050. 

These include saving 16 million tonnes of CO2-e by incorporating design elements such as solar power at its Scarborough, Pluto Train 2 and Trion projects. Woodside also aims to save a further 12 million tonnes of CO2-e through 70 different investment opportunities it wants to complete by 2030.

The company is also developing 35 million tonnes of CO2-e abatement solutions that involve retrofitting existing LNG facilities. However, this last option is the most challenging, given that the cost of these projects is greater than US$80 per tonne of CO2-e, costs that cannot be passed on to end buyers. Indeed, the CTAP notes that the executive leadership team reviews such projects before they are approved.

CEO O'Neill previously noted that decarbonising old LNG facilities was one of the big challenges of the transition, given that it was not cheap and buyers were not looking to pay associated costs.

O'Neill was very clear on Woodside's direction in navigating the energy transition. While acknowledging up front that the world needed to decarbonise, she was firm that her company's contributions needed to make commercial sense.

When quizzed earlier this year whether Woodside had a backup plan if customer demand for hydrogen and CCS failed to materialise, the executive's answer suggested there was not one. As it stands now, Woodside is not looking at wind or solar projects because of their "skinny margins", which O'Neill argued were not of interest to shareholders. She said: "If our shareholders wanted skinny solar returns they'd go and invest in a solar company."

Read ENB's full analysis of Woodside's CTAP here.

Unruly Woodside shareholders

Meanwhile, earlier this week, ENB's Slugcatcher explained how to tame Woodside Energy's unruly shareholders. 

Woodside Energy doesn't need Slugcatcher's advice on how to tame its unruly shareholders but after last week's annual meeting it might be time to consider the carrot and stick treatment because the issues raised will not fade away.

Juggling demands from one group of shareholders who love their generous dividends, with another group who want to change Woodside into a model climate warrior, is the core problem because those views are irreconcilably opposed, argues the Slug.

Either Woodside can be what it says on the packet or the first page of its website, "A global energy company", or it can try and be something else, without anyone yet knowing what that something might be.

More importantly no-one from the "change Woodside" camp is yet to demonstrate whether the restructured business would even be profitable if it tries to become a clean energy pioneer, added the Slug. 


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