Environment Opinion

Crackdown on protesters reminding who law really serves

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WA police officers watch over a Burrup Hub protest (Screenshot via YouTube)

Western Australia's police are targeting those aiming to put an end to environmentally destructive fossil fuel projects, writes Davey Heller.

THE DRAMATIC crackdown against protests opposing the most polluting fossil fuel project in Australia around the Burrup Hub Peninsula raises the question: Who does the law really serve to protect?

A small group of young campaigners calling themselves Disrupt Burrup Hub have this year carried out several high profile non-violent actions in Perth including spray painting the Woodside HQ, attempting to disrupt the Woodside annual general meeting, causing Woodside HQ to be evacuated after letting off harmless “stench” gas, attempting a one-woman protest outside the home of the Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill and stencilling but not damaging a Fred McCubbin painting with the Woodside logo.

In response, the Western Australian police have used tactics befitting a police state. They have admitted pulling a gun on an activist, anti-terror police have raided homes and were involved in the arrest at the Woodside CEO house protest. Activists have been placed under house arrest and are facing potential years in gaol for refusing to hand over their electronic devices and others face a range of indictable offences charges.

Woodside has sent letters threatening to sue activists personally. Meg O’Neill has also taken out several restraining violence orders designed to protect domestic violence victims in an effort to gag and limit the actions of protesters.

So what is the project that the WA forces of law and order are protecting? Burrup Hub is a series of interconnected projects in the seas and land in Australia’s remote northwest. Firstly, the North West Shelf project will be expanded and its life extended until 2070. To the seas to the west of the Burrup Peninsula is the new Scarborough Field. To the seas northeast of the Peninsula lies the new Browse Basin gas field, the largest gas field in Australia.

Hundreds of kilometres of underwater pipelines are being built to take the gas to expanded onshore processing facilities on the Burrup Peninsula itself. From there, much of the gas will be exported to Asia. The hub also includes industrial fertiliser-making facilities.

Whilst the law clearly is doing everything possible to protect Woodside's project and profits, it is worth examining whose interests it is not protecting.

It’s certainly not protecting the environment. The Burrup Hub projects over their lifetime will have total emissions of over 6 billion tonnes (gigatons) and is described by many as a “climate bomb”. This is equivalent to four Adani coal mines or 12 times Australia’s annual emissions and makes the project the most fossil fuel intensive in the country.

It makes a mockery of Australia’s signing of the Paris Accord and the Albanese Labor Government’s target of “net zero” by 2050. This target can only be met through massive implementation of rubbery “offsets” to hide the real explosion in emissions it fuels.

Nor is the law protecting the whales, dugongs and dolphins who could be deafened by seismic blasting or the biodiversity hotspot of the Dampier Archipelago which faces despoiling by dredging from the Scarborough project. Woodside would also have to drill 50 holes around the Scott Reef to develop the Browse Gas Fields.

In fact, these offshore projects conveniently do not need to adhere to Australian environmental law at all and instead can be rubber-stamped by the industry-friendly little-known regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environment Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

Nor is the law concerned that the acidic pollution from the existing industry on the Burrup Hub Peninsula is already threatening to literally dissolve 40,000 years of Indigenous rock art. In this time, Indigenous people of the Murujuga area carved and drew over 1 million drawings on cliffs and stones recording everything from now-extinct animals, the first sightings of Europeans and perhaps the world’s oldest image of a human face.

A campaign by some of the local indigenous landowners, under the banner of “Save Our Songlines”, is fighting to stop all new industrial activity on the Peninsula. In shades of the fight against uranium mining in Kakadu and the fight to save the Franklin, the rock art in Murujuga National Park located on the Burrup Penisula abutting the industrial zones is now UNESCO nominated.

This is not the first time a sense of lawlessness has surrounded Woodside. Woodside is the company that wishes to develop the Greater Sunrise gas fields that lie off the coast of East Timor. Conveniently, just two months before East Timor’s independence in 2002, Australia withdrew from the ‘Arbitration’ clauses of the UNCLOS Treaty (Law of the Sea) that covered maritime boundaries. ASIS then bugged the Parliamentary offices of East Timor to give Woodside an advantage in its negotiations.

Events in Western Australia make it clear who the police and law protect and that is the profiteering capitalist interests who are prepared to despoil both ancient living cultures and the biosphere. We need to “Disrupt the Hub” but we also need to change the entire system of power that criminalises those who fight to protect the planet and protect the climate vandals.  

Davey Heller is a writer and campaigner. You can follow him on Twitter @socialist_davey.

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