Geoff Cousins is not super rich and doesn’t spend millions of dollars of his own money on crusading. But he wins a place in our Rich Crusaders list for his passion, commitment and ingenuity, and because he has put his reputation on the line for two famous causes.
And that, as he says, “is worth much more than money”.
The charismatic Cousins — who made his fortune in advertising in the 1980s — is currently fighting to stop Woodside’s huge $30 billion gas hub in the Kimberley, which will process gas from the massive Gorgon Field. But he is best known for leading the charge against the notorious Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania’s Bell Bay in 2007.
The Telstra director and ex-John Howard adviser eventually stopped the $2 billion mill (though perhaps not forever) by persuading the ANZ Bank to refuse funding. But he also pushed Gunns to the brink, forced the company to stop logging old-growth forests, and famously took the fight to Liberal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with a high-profile campaign to unseat him in his constituency.
“We did far better than we expected,” he tells The Power Index over coffee in the ABC canteen.
But the fight with Woodside is tougher, nastier and (so far) much less successful. Cousins is taking on the WA and federal governments, plus the might of a big multinational, and none of his opponents has been prepared to blink. But he’s a fearsome opponent, and he knows how to apply pressure.
And he believes he has right on his side.
“The UN lists four or five places on the planet that are still true wilderness areas,” he says. “The Amazon Basin is one, the Kimberley is another. And this will be the largest gas hub in the world. The site is 2500 hectares, but they’re going to build a deep-water port as well, which means dredging six kilometres out to sea and continuing to do that for the next 50 years, throughout the life of the project. It’s going to do huge damage to the marine environment.”
Cousins’ opponents accuse him of being anti-mining, anti-development, and of standing in the way of a big payday for the local indigenous people that would improve health and conditions in the Kimberley.
“But I’m not against the project,” he says. “I don’t just want it there. They could pump the gas to Karratha, where Woodside has its headquarters, which has already been spoilt, or to the Northern Territory, or they could do what Shell is doing and build a platform 200 kilometres offshore to process it. No Green group is opposing that.”