Seemingly bowing to political pressure, the ABC changed its mind on its initial decision not to hand over the footage that Four Corners journalists had taken of Disrupt Burrup Hub activists in July this year, as the group were planning yet another nonviolent direct action in the name of planet.
This was confirmed last week when WA police paid a visit to three of the activists who’d willingly participated in the filming of the documentary Escalation and had been assured that such footage would not be handed over to police.
In the lead up to the Four Corners documentary screening in early October, WA police began putting pressure on the public broadcaster to hand over dozens of hours of footage it had taken whilst the DBH climate defenders had been planning a nonviolent action targeting the Woodside CEO’s house.
The ABC journalists were there in the morning out the front of Woodside head Meg O’Neil’s place when WA police swept up a handful of climate defenders on site, with its officers having waited for them, as so all-pervasive is its surveilling, it knows the moves DBH will take before it makes them.
Disrupt Burrup Hub has only been around for 2023, but it’s certainly caused a stir. The activists have been putting liberty on the line to expose the climate bomb that the Woodside Burrup Hub project is, as well as it being another blatant neocolonial sacrifice of an Aboriginal heritage site for profit.
But DBH has also exposed the extraordinary extent that the powers that be will go to when cracking down on climate dissenters. These regular civilians who simply care about the future of the planet have been framed as dangerous terrorists, worthy of raids and fair game when pulling a gun.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Disrupt Burrup Hub strategist Gerard Mazza about the ABC’s form in handing over footage that it was reasonably thought wouldn’t end up in the cop shop, the issue the group has with the Woodside gas project, and why they continue in the face of such opposition.
Three Disrupt Burrup Hub activists, Nicholas Doyle, Tahlia Stolarski and Joana Partyka, were arrested and charged by police on Wednesday 22 November, after the ABC handed over raw footage it took of DBH behind the scenes and had assured the organisation such footage would be kept private.
The trio have been charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence in relation to the 1 August attempted direct action out the front of Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill’s house.
Gerard, how does DBH consider the decision of the ABC to hand over the footage after it repeatedly gave assurances that it wouldn’t? How big a breach of confidentiality is this on its part?
I’d call it a complete betrayal. The ABC has betrayed its sources. We signed up to be investigated by Four Corners. We didn’t sign up to be investigated by the WA police in this manner.
We certainly didn’t expect the ABC to fold so easily and give this footage over. I was filmed over multiple days, miked up with a microphone on me.
I had conversations with all kinds of people about all kinds of things in that time, and to think that is now all in the hands of the WA police makes me feel a little bit ill.
I wish that the ABC had more integrity. It is basic journalistic ethics 101: you don’t betray your sources.
So, you weren’t caught up in these most recent arrests?
I was arrested earlier. I was arrested at the site of the protest. Initially, four were charged over the incident, now there were three more, so seven all up.
Did Disrupt know that the ABC had handed over the footage prior to the arrests last week?
There had been whispers but no confirmation. The confirmation came with the knock on the door from WA police to get those three campaigners.
The ABC is now saying that it gave no guarantees of anonymity to the three activists who were charged after the footage was handed over and in fact, they’ve said that the trio should have been aware that this sort of thing could happen.
How does your organisation feel about these assertions on the part of the ABC?
That is certainly true. These people in particular were informed that they were part of this documentary, that they weren’t going to be given anonymity and that the footage may air on the ABC. Other sources were given the guarantee of anonymity.
It is one thing to consent to being filmed for footage that might be used for a 45-minute television documentary. It is a whole other thing for hours and hours and hours of footage to be combed over by police.
We were told repeatedly that we could trust the ABC. We were told that we should trust them. We were told that they would not be doing this kind of wholesale handover of all the footage to authorities.
While it is true that these people consented to being filmed and didn’t request anonymity, they also didn’t consent to this.
We wouldn’t have let the ABC have such close access into our operations if we knew that they would be handing this stuff over so easily.
On Tuesday morning, DBH activists were travelling out to Burrup Hub with an international documentary crew to film at the site, when they were pulled up by police. The van of activists was expecting this as your organisation is well aware that it’s being heavily surveilled by police.
DBH only formed at the beginning of the year. Yet, WA police seem to be well aware of much of your movements prior to your having conducted them.
Can you talk about the level of surveillance the state has been subjecting you to? And what would you say it tells us about the mission you have set for yourselves?
It has been intense, this degree of surveillance. There’s been digital surveillance and I suspect this very call is being recorded as we speak. And I suspect the in-person surveillance is also there.
I know the police have photographed me going about my daily business. They will often drive by the house, etc. And other campaigners have experienced similar things.
The police have their methods of gathering intelligence. We have ours as well, which is why we were able to know to expect that those campaigners on Tuesday morning might be pulled up.
Those campaigners weren’t charged with any crimes. However, they were pulled over by a massive police operation. They had their vehicles searched and had their devices seized and were granted move on notices.
They were not committing any offences and have not been charged with any. They were just going to film a documentary with the international film crew, and we knew, and they knew that those police would be there.
This time we were one step ahead of the police. But certainly, the surveillance has been heavy, and that is because of the nature of what we are doing.
They are not putting those same resources towards ordinary types of crime to keep the community safe. They’re not doing this with domestic violence. They are putting it into us, in order to protect these powerful interests.
I want to be clear that I consider what Woodside is doing, which is enabled by the federal and WA government, is a crime against humanity. Expanding fossil fuel production when we know what we know in the year 2023 is a crime against humanity.
This is a human rights issue. But these are also very powerful forces and when you come up against such powerful sources, they will try and squash you, however they can. And that is what we have seen with Woodside and the WA police.
What would you say Woodside is doing at Burrup Hub?
There is enough gas for the transition. That is established. It is clear in all the modelling. We do not need new gas fields. Sometimes we are misrepresented as saying we need to turn all the gas off overnight. That is not our position.
Our position is let’s use what we have already to manage this transition, but we don’t need these new developments.
What they are doing is totally against the advice of the IPCC. It is not in line with the international energy agency’s modelling. They are doing this to make a buck. They are doing this because it is what they know, and they know they can make a profit on it.
They also know they can lock in a continued reliance on gas, which will be catastrophic. So, for the people of today, particularly for vulnerable children, this is going to have disastrous consequences.
So, I would be very clear that this is a crime against humanity, and that cannot be abided. What we are trying to do is bring some justice to this situation.
We are calling attention to these much vaster crimes. These are historical crimes in scale. These are crimes that are causing an existential risk for all of us.
And lastly, Gerard, as we’ve discussed, DBH has been experiencing heightened surveillance and policing, which has resulted in violence orders, raids, court appearances and charges.
Are you guys getting worn down by these tactics? Do you think you’ll have to pull back? And why are you continuing in the face of all this?
It is certainly not easy. These things are difficult. But it is a kind of duty. It is a responsibility that we have. It can be discouraging, but it can also be empowering.
It makes us at times think that what we are doing is working and we want to keep going.
Speaking personally, for me, it’s a calling that I feel to protect life. It is a spiritual impulse to do what I can to protect life. So, whatever the state or Woodside can throw at me, it isn’t going to deter me.
I’d also say we are about to move into a new phase of the campaign. This will be a mass mobilisation phase. So far, we have done small actions with people taking a lot of risk.
Over summer, in response to the catastrophic bushfires that we know are coming, we want to get thousands of people onto the streets of Perth to show the power that we have and to show the opposition to projects like Burrup Hub and involve more people in our disruption.
That will hopefully energise the campaign. Take some of the pressure off the individuals. But everyone who is involved in this campaign remains involved in this campaign and remains determined.
Ultimately, this is an emissions crisis both globally and here in Western Australia. And in that bigger picture, zooming out, we all think this is a very important thing that we are all doing. It is something that we are called on to do.
Main photo: Disrupt Burrup Hub strategist Gerard Mazza. Supplied by Disrupt Burrup Hub