Home > Campaigns > Banks > WESTPAC – Bank AGM Season Update – Dec 2023



Bank AGM Season 2023

ANZ, NAB and Westpac continue to undermine their commitments to the Paris Agreement by financing companies that are expanding the fossil fuel industry.

The good news is, from 2025 each of the big four will require fossil fuel companies to have emissions reduction plans (transition plan) in order to receive new lending. That means, if a fossil fuel company cannot demonstrate on paper that it has a plan to scale down its emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement they could be ineligible to receive financial support from Australia’s largest lenders.

But with their policies as is, there’s plenty of loopholes that could see the big four continue to pour money into climate wrecking companies up until 2025 and beyond.

We’re putting pressure on the banks to ensure they don’t give another cent to climate-wrecking companies. But we need your help!

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Tell Westpac and Nab to close their fossil fuel finance gaps, and end their relationship with climate wreckers once and for all!

Westpac confronted over human rights and its love affair with climate wreckers

19 December 2023

  • Westpac’s shareholders send a clear message to the bank that it needs to address its role in fuelling climate change at the bank’s AGM on 14 December in Brisbane.
  • A massive 21.5% of Westpac’s shareholders voted in favour of Market Forces climate shareholder resolution, and are demanding the banks close the gaps in their fossil fuel lending.
  • The bank was also confronted by Tiwi Islands Traditional Owners over its rejection of their human rights complaint related to Westpac financing the Santos’ Barossa project.
Tiwi Traditional Owners stand in front of a banner that says 'sWindling our future away' (with the Westpac logo as the W) 'Westpac, stop funding fossil fuels'

Despite claiming to be committed to the Paris Agreement, Westpac has continued to push through more finance for companies developing new and expanded fossil fuel projects in 2023. In recent months, Westpac was part of a $1.3 billion bond to Santos that won’t mature until 2033, a $2.3 billion loan to JERA, Santos’ project partner in Barossa, and a $1.25 billion loan to APA Group, which signed new contracts just this week to develop the pipeline infrastructure to frack the Beetaloo Basin.

The Westpac board were also confronted over their rejection of a human rights complaint filed by Tiwi and Larrakia Traditional Owners over their financing of Santos’ Barossa project.

Traditional Owners have been challenging the project for well over a year now. Tiwi Traditional Owners won a Federal Court case, which found that the regulator had failed to assess if Santos had consulted relevant parties affected by its proposed project. In April of 2023 Traditional Owners filed human rights grievances at Australian super funds and banks, as well as major international banks for their investment in Santos. Santos hasn’t been able to drill into the Barossa gas field since September 2022, putting the whole project on hold for fifteen months.

Devastatingly, the federal regulator National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), has just this week accepted a revised environment plan by Santos, getting the company one step closer to opening the project. However, on a positive note, the pipelay is still stalled and continues to be contested in court.

Traditional Owners have made it clear that they do not consent to any fossil fuel activities being developed off the coast line of the Tiwi Islands, yet Westpac has refused to pull its funding from Barossa, or even publicly rule out funding Darwin LNG, the gas plant that will process the gas from the Barossa offshore drilling project.

Shareholder resolution

Westpac has given upstream oil and gas companies until October 2025 before it will require them to have a credible, Paris-aligned emissions reduction plan. That means two more years of finance for companies with no intention of getting off oil and gas. Further to this, Westpac won’t require emissions reduction plans as a condition for finance from metallurgical coal miners, whose contribution to climate change is enormous. One of Westpac’s clients is BHP, one of the world’s biggest metallurgical coal miners, who have applied to extend the life of its largest metallurgical coal mine, Peak Downs, for 93 years.

While it’s unlikely that Westpac could lend to or arrange bonds for companies like Santos, Woodside and JERA beyond October 2025, shareholders face a nervous, almost two-year wait where Westpac could continue to lock in long-life finance for these companies, which could be crucial to them having the money required to lock in their climate-wrecking expansion projects.

Westpac Board

It is against this backdrop, and the shortcomings of the bank’s stated transition plan expectations, that 21.49% of Westpac’s shareholders voted in favour of the bank tightening up these loopholes. Shareholders are calling for Westpac to demonstrate that it will assess all fossil fuel clients to be genuinely aligned with 1.5°C in order to receive new finance. With over 1 in 5 shareholders demanding this change, Westpac will have to listen.

Tiwi Islands and the Santos human rights complaint

In April, Traditional Owners filed a human rights complaint at Westpac over its involvement in a loan for the Santos’ Barossa project, a loan that appallingly was given while Traditional Owners were challenging Santos over its shoddy consultation process. 

Traditional Owners stand in front of the Westpac AGM, holding a sign asking Westpac to stop supporting Santos, a copy which threatens their Country and human rights

The human rights complaint made several requests of the bank, including to publicly apologise to Traditional Owners, to provide information about any human rights due diligence done by the bank and to meet the Claimants for a dialogue on-country.

“It’s not good for Westpac to completely ignore our letters about our human rights. We’ve asked them not to support Santos for this Barossa project. It’s hurting us and it will hurt our environment now and over the long-term future. If Westpac is ok to hurt us, that’s not good. They didn’t even give us 5 minutes to meet with us to talk this through. I want everything to stop. Stop giving them money.” – Senior Tiwi Lawman, Dennis Tipakalippa

In the lead up to the AGM, Westpac dismissed the grievances without any consultation or engagement with the Traditional Owners who filed the complaints. Westpac even stated that “direct engagement with Santos is a more appropriate and effective course than continued direct engagement with the Claimants.”

At the AGM, Westpac was met by Tiwi Islands Traditional Owners who travelled thousands of kilometres to question the bank over its lack of engagement with them about a project that threatens their land, sea country, livelihoods and cultural heritage.

What transpired was truly remarkable:

At the end of Antonia Burke’s powerful statement, she asked “will Westpac commit to a dialogue with us on the Tiwi Islands and actually connect to where your money is going?”

In response, Westpac’s Chairman said that he would connect them right now to Anthony Miller (who then stood up in the meeting). Anthony Miller is Westpac’s Chief executive of Westpac Group’s Business & Wealth Division, who according to McFarlane, “is the right person here to talk to you, and he has control over lending in areas, particularly in mining and fossil fuels.”

Antonia asked why it was that they had to come all of this way to be connected to Anthony Miller.

McFarlane, as well as admitting that he was not aware of the matter the Tiwi Islanders were referring to (despite Market Forces asking about this matter at Westpac’s 2022 AGM, and the Tiwi Islanders submitting a formal complaint to Westpac in April 2023), Mr. McFarlane said that he was aware of it now, and will deal with it now and we will meet with you.


Tiwi Traditional Owners and crowd, at Westpac Bank AGM

At the end of the AGM, Westpac’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Peter King, spoke with the Tiwi Islanders and committed to meeting with them on country to hear their concerns firsthand.

Another very significant remark Westpac’s Chairman John McFarlane made during his exchange with the Tiwi Islanders was that when it comes to a corporate loan facility (like the $1.5 billion Santos facility Westpac contributed to), Westpac has no control over what this money is used for:


“…these facilities come in two ways, there is either a project that we finance directly or we don’t finance it directly, or we have got a general relationship with a customer that we lend to for general purposes. In the first, we do what we are doing and we do know about the project and we can make a specific decision… But where it is a general amount of money we lend to a customer, that is not related to project finance, we have no control over where that money goes afterwards.”

– Westpac’s Chairman, John McFarlane

This underscores the vital need for Westpac to not provide corporate finance to pure-play fossil fuel companies like Santos who are expanding their operations. It is why Westpac must omit any form of finance that could be used by a company who is expanding fossil fuels. The simplest way that Westpac could achieve this is by ruling out new lending to companies expanding fossil fuels by requiring Paris-aligned 1.5°C aligned transition plans enforced across all of their fossil fuel clients. Westpac also needs to require these transition plans as soon as possible, not in two more years.

Climate transition plans

In Westpac’s 2023 Climate Report, Westpac alluded to the fact that oil and gas customers are struggling to establish scope 3 emissions reductions plans. That’s concerning given that scope 3 emissions result from the burning of the oil and gas these companies sell, and often account for 90% of extraction companies’ overall emissions.

In simple terms, oil and gas companies are not moving their business away from fossil fuels and into cleaner sources of energy.

Presumably, based on what we know about the business plans of oil and gas companies, they are struggling to reduce their emissions because they are pursuing oil and gas expansion projects, the sole purpose of which is to grow, not reduce, the size of their fossil fuel business

Market Forces Banks Analyst Kyle Robertson asked the Westpac board if it accepts that new and expanded oil and gas projects are not compatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C.

In response, Westpac CEO Peter King more or less dodged the question and said that it would depend on individual client’s situations, while outgoing Chair John McFarlane stated it was more of a question for government. This is despite Westpac having a policy that rules out new and expanded oil and gas fields on the project level, explicitly detailing that this is because they are not compatible with the IEA’s NZE2050 scenario for limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Earlier in the meeting, Westpac acknowledged it does not necessarily know what companies spend general corporate purpose loans on. If Westpac wouldn’t fund new oil and gas at a project level, it should not risk general corporate purpose loans and bonds to companies that very well may be spending their money on those projects anyway.

Westpac’s staff concerned over human rights and fossil fuels

Westpac also faced criticism from its staff about its performance on climate, as well as over its handling over the Tiwi Islands human rights complaint regarding Westpac’s lending to Santos’ Barossa gas project.

A Westpac staff member who has worked at the bank for the past 11 years and member of the Finance Sector Union, delivered a powerful address to Westpac’s board.

While acknowledging the times she had been proud to work for Westpac, including its support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the recent referendum, Ms. Fish also disclosed that she felt dismayed over Westpac’s financing of companies and projects that expand the fossil fuel sector. In particular, she pointed to Westpac’s disregard for the Tiwi Islands human rights complaints as a blight on the bank’s record on Indigenous reconciliation.

Ms. Fish implored the Board to cease financial support for companies expanding fossil fuels, and to consult with and include Westpac staff in the formulation of the bank’s climate policies going forward.

CEO Peter King said that Westpac would like to hear from all employees about its climate policies going forward. We hope that this is backed by action.

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