Woodside Petroleum got good value for its money yesterday. The WA Liberals have come through for them on the removal of the condensate excise exemption. Having already delivered a Coalition position against the tax, yesterday they provided a dissenting Senate committee report against the removal, and at a press conference yesterday Julie Bishop, four WA Senators and Michael Keenan vowed to die in a ditch for Woodside.

A good return for the $25,000 Woodside donated to the WA Liberals last year.

While announcing a record half-year profit yesterday of over $1 billion, Woodside boss Don Voelte was saying the removal of the condensate excise exemption would be passed on to consumers in the next few months.

Which presumably means that Woodside’s Eve Howell, the CEO of North West Shelf Venture, misled the Senate committee inquiry into the removal when she said “we in general have no ability to pass on this additional impost” due to the long-term contracts in place.

One hopes that Coalition senators will pursue this apparent contempt of the Senate, or at least issue a please-explain to Woodside about the discrepancy. After all, it was on the basis of such evidence that Brendan Nelson embarrassingly declared last week that the removal would not be passed on to consumers.

Or perhaps we can’t believe a word Woodside says. They are, after all, the biggest corporate sooks in Australia. Woodside executives can barely open their mouths without bleating, whingeing, complaining and lamenting how terrible everyone is being to them while they make billions in profits from Australian resources.

For example, Don Voelte is continuing to warn about “sovereign risk” over an emissions trading scheme. As Inigo Montoya might say, I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

There’s no “sovereign risk” when an issue like emissions trading has been on the political agenda for a decade, and when both major political parties went to the last election promising it. Perhaps they have a different understanding of sovereign risk in Voelte’s homeland, where business regard any departures from strict laissez faire economics as rank Stalinism.

Admittedly Voelte isn’t the only whinger at Woodside. It’s not so long since its security and emergency manager made unsubstantiated allegations that Commonwealth public servants were leaking confidential Woodside information. And there’s a long history of whingeing from Woodside. In 2004 it froze the Sunrise gas project over East Timor’s attempts to get a fairer deal over its maritime border with Australia, and is continuing to treat the East Timorese Government with contempt.

It’s all about “uncertainty”, for Woodside, although the certainty that it appears to want is that it will be permitted to do whatever it likes now and in the future. Like its attempts to prevent the heritage listing of 30,000 year old Aboriginal rock art on the Dampier Archipelago in 2006, on the basis that not merely would the listing somehow hinder its Pluto Gas project, but “hinder everything”.

The Pluto Project was the reason for Don Voelte’s extended whingeing about Alan Carpenter’s plan to quarantine 15-20% of WA gas supplies for domestic users in 2006.

And let’s not forget the biggest — and most successful — whinge of all, for the Federal Government to protect it from takeover by Shell in 2001 — another victory for WA Liberals.

Woodside’s behaviour is so outrageous even Resources Minister Martin Ferguson — usually to be found actively promoting the interests of Australia’s resources sector — is underwhelmed.

When he sees Don Voelte tomorrow for the resources sector’s whinge session about the ETS Green Paper in Canberra, Ferguson should tell him to dump the billion-dollar bitch act.

Peter Fray

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