‘You don’t betray your sources’: Disrupt Burrup Hub tells the ABC

December 8, 2023
Gerard Mazza. Photo: Supplied

Disrupt Burrup Hub activists Nicholas Doyle, Tahlia Stolarski and Joana Partyka were arrested and charged on November 22, after the ABC handed over footage of them planning a non-violent direct action on August 1 in front of the Woodside CEO’s home.

The three have been charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.

The ABC bowed to pressure and handed over Four Corners footage after having promised it would not.

This was confirmed in early December when West Australian Police visited three activists who had helped film the documentary Escalation having been assured the footage would not be handed to police.

In the lead-up to the Four Corners documentary, which screened in early October, police began pressuring the ABC to hand over dozens of hours of footage of DBH climate defenders planning a non-violent action outside Woodside CEO Meg O’Neil’s house.

The ABC journalists were present in the morning out front of O’Neil’s place when police arrested a handful of climate defenders: its officers were already there waiting for them.

DBH formed this year. Activists have been putting liberty on the line to expose the Woodside Burrup Hub project climate bomb and threat to significant First Nations’ cultural heritage sites.

DBH has also exposed the extraordinary extent that the powers that be will go to when cracking down on climate dissenters.

The activists, who simply care about the planet, have been framed as dangerous terrorists, necessitating raids and even pulling a gun.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to DBH’s Gerard Mazza about ABC’s betrayal of its code, the dangerous Woodside gas project and why the group is being made out to be terrorists.

What do you make of the ABC’s decision to hand over the footage after giving assurances it wouldn’t? How big a breach of confidentiality is it?

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.

We certainly didn’t expect the ABC to fold so easily and give this footage over. I was filmed over multiple days, with a microphone on me.

I had conversations with all kinds of people about all kinds of things in that time. To think that is now in the hands of the WA police makes me feel a bit ill.

I thought the ABC had more integrity. It is basic journalistic ethics 101: you don’t betray your sources.

You were not caught up in these most recent arrests? 

I was arrested earlier at the site of the protest. Initially, four were charged over the incident; now three more [have been charged].

Did DBH 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 the three campaigners.

The ABC now says it gave no guarantees of anonymity to the three activists charged after the footage was handed over. It said the trio should have been aware it could happen. How do you respond?

That is certainly true. These people, in particular, were informed that they were going to be 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 a 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 [to allow] hours and hours and hours of footage to be combed over by police.

We were repeatedly told 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 … if we knew they would hand this stuff over so easily.

On November 28, other DBH activists travelling to Burrup Hub with an international documentary crew were pulled up by police. They were expecting this, as they knew they were being watched. Can you talk about the state’s level of surveillance? What does it tell us about the mission DBH has set itself?

This degree of surveillance has been intense: There’s been digital surveillance and I suspect this call is being recorded.

I know the police have photographed me going about my daily business. They will often drive by my house 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 might be pulled up.

They weren’t charged with any crimes. However, they were pulled over by a massive police operation. They had their vehicles searched, their devices seized and they were given “move on” notices.

They were not committing any offence and have not been charged with anything. They were going to film a documentary with the international film crew.

We knew that the police would be there, and we were one step ahead of them.

The police are not putting those resources towards ordinary types of crime to keep the community safe. They’re not doing this with domestic violence. They are putting it towards us, to protect powerful interests.

I consider that what Woodside is doing, enabled by the federal and WA government, is a crime against humanity. Expanding fossil fuel production when we know what we know in 2023 is a crime against humanity.

This is a human rights issue.

These are very powerful forces and when you come up against them they will try and squash you, however they can. That is what we have seen with Woodside and the WA police.

What is Woodside doing at Burrup Hub? 

There is already enough gas for the transition. That is established. It is clear in all the modelling. We do not need new gas fields.

Sometimes DBH is misrepresented as saying we need to turn all the gas off overnight. That is not our position. We are saying let’s use what we already have to manage the transition.

We don’t need new developments.

What Woodside is doing is totally against the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is not in line with the international energy agency’s modelling. They are doing this to make a buck.

They also know they can lock in a continued reliance on gas, which will be catastrophic.

This is a crime against humanity: we are trying to bring some justice to this situation.

But the justice system is coming down on us for criminal damage and trespass. We are calling attention to these much bigger crimes — crimes causing an existential risk for all of us.

Why is DBH continuing in the face of the repression and surveillance?

It is certainly not easy. 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 all think that what we are doing is working and we want to keep going.

We are about to move into a new phase of the campaign — 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 Boorloo/Perth to show the power we have and to show the opposition to projects, like Burrup Hub, and involve more people.

That will hopefully energise the campaign, and take some of the pressure off individuals.

Ultimately, this is an emissions crisis globally and here in WA.

[This article was first published at Sydney Criminal Lawyers.]

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