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Greenwashing, Gag Orders and a Gas Extraction Empire– The Case to Kick Woodside off Campus

Woodside is terrifying. 


When I say Woodside, I’m not talking about the Engineering building– the Woodside Building for Technology and Design, on our own Clayton Campus, is an energy-efficient architectural masterpiece with a slew of design awards. Built in 2019-2020, and opened at an online launch in between lockdowns, it’s the only building on campus that doesn’t use gas for power. That isn’t the ‘Woodside’ I dread.


I’m talking about the name plastered on its side, Woodside, standing for the mining company known as Woodside Energy, formerly Woodside Petroleum (before they merged with BHP). The oil and gas-extracting megacorporation currently partnered with Monash, and the Engineering building’s namesake.


Woodside, Australia’s biggest fossil fuel company, with the revenue (2022-2023 profit of 10 billion Australian dollars) and production rate (513M barrels of oil per day) to prove it. The company that recently, in 2022, swallowed up all of BHP’s oil and gas assets, catapulting it into the top 10 of the world’s biggest hydrocarbon extractors. 


The other day, I walked by a fellow student excited that her and her mate’s next class was in the Woodside Building, and I mourn the fact that this is exactly what Woodside wanted– to have its name be known for the beautiful Engineering building, and not the insidious company that it is. The company that’s pushing for its massive offshore Burrup Hub gas proposal to run until 2070, with lifetime emissions of 6.1 billion metric tonnes of CO2– that’s 13 years of Australia’s carbon footprint alone, from a singular Woodside gas plant. 


As a climate science student, I’m well aware that this oil and gas-burning is catastrophic, suicidal, and heralds the destruction of the weather systems we depend on for a habitable environment, but it goes deeper than that. Even by fossil fuel standards, Woodside is truly evil, and you only have to look at their shady history.


In 2006, they were investigated by the Australian Federal Police over bribery and corruption of officials in the Mauritanian government. Their Greater Sunrise oil field operation, reserves of massively lucrative undersea oil between East Timor and Australia, was the alluring deal at stake that led Australia to wiretap the East Timorese government in a 2004 espionage scandal. The ASIS operative whistleblower known as ‘Witness K’ only made the situation public in 2012, after then-foreign affairs minister at the time of the bugging operation, Alexander Downer, retired and became a corporate adviser, to Woodside. In 2014, the International Court of Justice ordered the Australian government to stop spying on East Timor. 


Offshore gas regulator NOPSEMA refused to disclose the location or company behind an oil spill of over 10 000 litres off the coast of Western Australia in 2016, only that it had been leaking continuously for over 2 months. Woodside turned out to have been behind the disaster, kept secret for more than a year. 


In Parliament from 2007-2016, and Minister for Energy and Resources under Gillard, Labor MP Gary Gray worked as Woodside’s Director of Corporate Affairs from the turn of the millennium right up until the winning of his seat. Ian Macfarlane, Liberal Minister for Industry under Howard and then Abbott, has sat comfortably on the Woodside board since his 2015 retirement. The three most recent chairs of offshore gas regulator NOPSEMA have all held positions at Woodside prior to their appointment on the supposedly independent regulatory body. In Western Australia, where Woodside is based and operates, the revolving doors between government and industry continue, and the control Woodside has is even more staggering. 


This brings us to the Burrup Hub. 


The Burrup Peninsula, Indigenous name Murujuga, sits in Western Australia’s Pilbara. I’ve already told you that Woodside is pushing to expand its operations there for more than 50 years into the future, and that the billions of tonnes of emissions this would produce would eclipse all of Australia’s historical emissions reductions, striking out any progress we’ve made towards the Paris or Kyoto Agreements. Traditional Owners have pointed out that sacred 40,000 year old rock art is already being destroyed by Woodside’s existing onshore processing plant. Marine reefs lie off the pristine coast, with Greenpeace and the Conservation Council of Western Australia fighting against plans to use huge seismic blasting waves to map potential sites for drilling, damaging fragile Scott Reef beyond repair and harming species like endangered pygmy blue whales that call the ecosystem home. 


Mardudhunera woman Raelene Cooper successfully argued in Federal Court that Woodside had failed to adequately consult her and other custodians of Murujuga, and that the cultural heritage of Indigenous songlines were jeopardised by the project, before NOPSEMA waved through a second approval process in 2022. Back in WA, Cooper then had her home raided by police, who found nothing. 


Restraining orders and gag orders, usually used in domestic violence situations to prevent social media threats by abusive male offenders, were slapped on Disrupt Burrup Hub activists in Perth, preventing them from posting about Woodside online. The orders were placed after one 19-year old attempted to spray-paint messages outside CEO Meg O’Brien’s residence, with no intention to enter the premises. The Australian Human Rights Law Centre calls this “beyond democracy”, and other legal experts have expressed shock at this abuse of the legal system by these gag orders, which extend O’Brien’s right to personal safety to encompass the reputation of the company itself. Bail conditions placed on activists already restricted them from approaching O’Brien or Woodside’s property, so the additional gag order only served to silence the activists discussing Woodside’s activities online. The effect is a perverse inversion of the legal “corporate veil”, with the courts protecting Woodside’s social licence as if it was a real person in physical danger. 


Woodside is trying to sue these activists for loss of revenue after a demonstration at company headquarters. They have threatened to sue, additionally, for loss of brand value and social licence as a result of protesting, as if the public isn’t opposing Woodside due to their own destructive actions. 


Woodside have been accused by unions of deliberately ignoring AWU and MUA strikers and hiring inexperienced scab labour engineers on their oil rigs, waving away safety concerns. 


WA police, in a blatant attempt at intimidation, pulled a 21-year old unarmed anti-Woodside activist over with an unmarked police car and held him at gunpoint the night before a protest, searching his vehicle without a warrant.


When I say I’m campaigning to end Woodside’s partnership with Monash, many people consider this an extreme position. Can’t we work with this company that is supposedly ‘transitioning’ to carbon capture and storage (CCS) and green hydrogen tech, especially when they fund plenty of good research? Isn’t it important to not get so extremist about this? Can’t I take a moderate position? 


I hope after this article you can understand why that’s not possible. That the company’s history demonstrates the staggering legal, political and police power they revel in wielding to protect their gas and oil mining empire. That their crusade against democracy, the law, and community safety is truly a terrifying sight to behold. 


That despite their greenwashing, less than 1% of Woodside’s profit goes towards carbon capture technology, and they’re actively pursuing the largest carbon-emitting project the southern hemisphere has ever seen. That they are an oil and gas company, and will never transition to renewables. That the Woodside-funded engineering and environmental research may look good on the surface, but that it’s been proven that universities funded by fossil fuels produce skewed, biased, and unscientific conclusions. That Woodside are a deeply calculating and insidious corporation that does not, and will never, have the climate’s best interests at heart, let alone the interests of staff, students, and academic integrity. 


That continuing to frack, drill, extract and burn fossil fuels, in 2024, is itself, extremist, and extremely dangerous for the future of Earth, and all of us who live on it. And that Woodside, actively pursuing the destruction of the planet, doesn’t deserve anyone’s co-operation, moderation, or acquiescence, especially that of any scientific institution with a moral backbone. 


Woodside’s presence on Monash campus is a venture that serves their PR needs and theirs alone, a co-option of the prestige and respect that Monash holds. Monash is respected as a research university, not because of upper management or parasitic industrial partnerships, but thanks to a hard-working staff and student body driven to find ways to create a better future. Woodside is a company profiting off of our hard work, our university community and our passion –  using their ties with Monash in order to slow their demise in the public eye, and maintain the unquestionable political status that has fuelled their domination for so long. The Woodside-Monash Energy Partnership is undoubtedly a lucrative deal for the university, but it’s an unforgivable one. Woodside is paying in cold hard, oil-slick cash for the dodgy sale of Monash’s scientific integrity into fossil fuel’s pockets. 


No amount of research grants or industry connections can justify the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor or the Board colluding with a company actively conspiring to destroy our future. They must axe all ties with Woodside immediately, and implement a comprehensive ESG policy that ensures this never happens again. I urge you to follow the Stop Woodside Monash campaign, and to join your fellow staff and students in the fight. 


Woodside, and the rest of the fossil fuel megacorps, are scrambling to protect their influence because they are worried that the extraction industry will become a sociopolitical pariah, scorned by any respected scientific institution.


We can only hope.


Carina is a third year Law/Science student. She wants you to go to or @stopwoodsidemonash on Instagram, and join.

Carina Griffin

The author Carina Griffin

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