Reports reveal the symphony of coal and gas money showered on sports and the arts

by Callum Foote | Aug 11, 2023 | Energy & Environment, Latest Posts

While Victorian netballers refused money from Gina Rinehart, and Cricket Australia dropped Alinta Energy as sponsors, fossil fuel companies are still spending millions with the arts around Australia. A report released today outlines the extent of the arts washing, Callum Foote reports.

Research into almost 130 major arts organisations across the country has found that 6.3% have close relationships or partnerships with fossil fuel companies.

Unsurprisingly, these sponsorships occur more frequently in areas with large extractive industries such as Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

According to Swinburne University Associate Professor Adam Karg, lead researcher for the report, “Our research shows there remain numerous active sponsorships with fossil fuel generating companies within the arts sector, with many of these linked to specific regions where mining activities take place.

“While the total level of fossil fuel sponsorship investment within the arts is moderate, coal, oil and gas companies do derive many significant and unique benefits from arts sector partnerships.”

Karg likens the sponsorships of arts organisations to those in sports.

“Similar to sport and other high involvement sectors, we have seen the number of partnerships with fossil fuel related organisations in the arts sector decrease in recent years” he says “This has often been a response to increasing calls from communities demanding high levels of alignment between organisational values of organisations and the commercial partnerships they hold and support” Karg said.

ASIC and ACCC put companies on notice for greenwashing

According to research conducted last year by the Australian Conservation Foundation, fossil fuel companies spend an estimated $14m to $18m a year sponsoring the top tiers of Australian sport.

However, the amount is modest representing only 3.5% of sponsorship investment in 14 of Australia’s top sports.

Prominent examples include gas producer Santos’ logo decorating Wallaby’s jersey. In 2021, Rugby Australia extended their relationship with Santos for another three years with CEO Andy Marinos thanking Santos’s CEO “Thank you to Kevin Gallagher and his team – we are delighted to integrate you further into the Rugby Australia family”.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s campaign director Paul Sinclair believes that acceptance of these partnerships bolsters heavy polluters’ public image. “When we see the Santos Wallabies or Woodside Fremantle Dockers on TV it has the effect of sanitising their role and image as big climate polluters” Sinclair said.

Some fossil fuel companies also develop connections with cultural institutions that go beyond sponsorships.

“Brazenly co-opted”: experts confront CSIRO for gas industry infiltration, greenwashing fossil fuels

For example, there are deep links between the Board of the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) and oil and gas giant Woodside.

Chair of Woodside’s board, Richard Goyder is also the chair of WASO with Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Meg O’Neill serving on the orchestra’s on board as well.

The WASO youth orchestra has regularly performed at Woodside’s AGM. With the chairman thanking the performers at the start of his AGM addresses as recently as 2017. 

According to 350 Australia CEO Lucy Manne, “the arts are being used by fossil fuel companies to buy public support, through sponsorships that allow them to plaster their logo across festivals, galleries, concert halls and theatres.

“This is why it’s so important that we all use our power as an audience member, a performer, an arts worker, a board member, or a donor to put an end to fossil fuel company greenwashing.”

There has been a groundswell of opposition to heavy emitters sponsorships by major sporting and cultural institutions in recent years.

This has included Cricket Australia dropping Alinta as a sponsor, Santos being dropped from the Darwin Festival, and Questacon cutting ties with Shell and Inpex. The City of Sydney and other councils are also voting to ban all fossil fuel sponsorships of their events. 

Callum Foote was a reporter for Michael West Media for four years.

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