The Australian climate protesters cast as extremists
Every time Emma Sangalli sees a police car, her heart stops.
There’s a feeling in your gut like panic. A total panic feeling.
“It’s hard to believe you are not a criminal, that you deserve this,” the Australian climate activist says.
The 25-year-old’s home in Western Australia was raided by counterterrorism police last month.
She is accused of flooding a global fossil fuel giant’s office with non-toxic gas.
Workers are alerted to danger by stench gas, which smells like rotten eggs. Protesters in Perth used it to empty Woodside Energy’s Perth headquarters to draw attention to the climate crisis.
In a statement, Australia’s largest oil and gas company called the protests targeting its brand “unlawful”.
However, environmental activists say disruptive protest is crucial to their cause.
Lawyers warn that Australia’s response to climate activism is becoming increasingly militarized.
According to Ms Sangalli, officers from Western Australia’s State Security Investigation Group (SSIG) searched her home for hours looking for evidence that she was involved in the Woodside protest.
She was forced to watch her personal items – including phones and laptops – being seized and a male officer looking through her diary despite not facing formal charges.
She told the BBC that was the most painful part.
You are rendered powerless as a result of being violated.”
Two climate protest groups have been active in the activist’s career: Extinction Rebellion, a global movement, and Disrupt Burrup Hub, a local coalition, which campaigns against fossil fuel projects.
The “direct action” strategy followed by both groups involves infiltrating fossil fuel conferences, blocking rush hour traffic, and superficially defacing artworks in order to end climate complacency.
As a result of the Woodside protest, a number of members of the protest group have been charged criminally. The company has alleged that four employees suffered from dizziness, breathing difficulties, rashes, and nausea as a result of the protest.
Woodside condemns unlawful acts that are intended to threaten, harm, intimidate, or disrupt its employees.
However, Disrupt Burrup insists their protest stunt was safe and necessary to protest one of Australia’s largest polluters.
The charges are being challenged in court by its members.
Mineral resources, including iron ore, oil, and gas, make Western Australia a resource-rich state.
In the far north of the state, in the Pilbara desert, most of its industry is concentrated. It powers the national economy and is home to global mining giants such as Rio Tinto and BHP with an annual output of more than A$100 billion (£52 billion; $67 billion).
A number of Australia’s most polluting projects are based there, including Woodside’s North West Shelf gas facility and its Scarborough development – a controversial offshore drilling venture that scientists say will undermine the nation’s climate goals.
There have been fierce debates about both projects and renewed accusations that the gas lobby has an outsized influence on state authorities.
A former Woodside employee who chaired the offshore oil and gas regulator’s advisory board was cited as an example of gaining access to ministers, timing of political donations and moving mining executives into watchdog positions.