Activist Investing
May 1, 2024

Vote out the Chairs of Woodside and Santos!

Written by
Sarah Chow
Published on
May 1, 2024

The chairpersons at Australia’s biggest gas companies are both up for election this Autumn AGM season. Woodside’s Richard Goyder and Santos’ Keith Spence might be feeling that their positions could be blown away like Autumn leaves as NGOs, climate advocacy groups, and shareholders seek to hold them accountable for both companies' lack of an adequate climate change plan.

Shareholders of Woodside and Santos will soon have the opportunity to hold both Chairs accountable. They can directly vote against the re-election of Keith Spence and Richard Goyder at their respective company's next Annual General Meeting (AGM) in April 2024.

There are three main reasons to vote against their re-election, detailed below.

1. Questions about leadership, dissatisfied workforce

Richard Goyder

Goyder's leadership abilities have faced intense scrutiny during his recent tenure as Chairperson at Qantas. Unions, governance experts, and multiple shareholder associations collectively called for his resignation.

While Goyder initially refused to step down, he eventually announced he would be stepping down at the end of 2024. During his tenure, he oversaw multiple controversies Qantas had been steeped in, from ongoing customer issues, illegal sacking of workers in 2020, to the current ACCC investigation over the airline’s misleading conduct from their advertising of tickets from over 8,000 cancelled flights.

Despite customer backlash, Goyder received an increase in total pay for 2023, ignored calls to step down from his role and saw his total remuneration rise from $658,000 to $750,000 in the past financial year. 

Some Qantas shareholders showed their discontent at the Chair, booing Goyder at the last Annual General Meeting and voting overwhelmingly against executive pay, with a historic 83% of Qantas shareholders voting against the company's executive pay report.

Qantas is not the only Chair position where Goyder is facing scrutiny - he holds four other chair positions - the AFL, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Channel 7 Telethon Trust, and Woodside. With multiple board positions, it’s clear that Goyder cannot devote sufficient time and attention to his duties as a Chairperson of Woodside.

Keith Spence

Spence has been at the helm of an unhappy workforce with dwindling faith in Santos' leadership - 87% of Santos’ 3,800 employees completed a recent survey that damned their leadership as untrustworthy and ineffective. Less than a quarter of the group agreed they had trust in Santos’ senior leadership, and 49 per cent of the group disagreed with the statement.

Under his current tenure, Santos employees also took industrial action from late 2022 to 2023, striking for over 13 weeks over concerns of poor pay, arguing for a pay rise linked to Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases. While the workers eventually were covered by a single enterprise agreement, they stated that they had spent 3 years bargaining for fair wages, and hundreds of members had received no pay increase since 2020.

Where Spence has been quiet over improving relations towards his workforce, he has been vocal in his defence of Santos CEO Kevin Gallagher’s bonus $6 million “incentive” to stay at Santos, stating that Gallagher was well recognised as one of Australia’s leading CEOs. The bonus was described by global proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services as excessive and a reward for what would constitute day job responsibilities.

2. Prioritising short term profits, taking on risky projects and opening doors to future costs

The Boards of both companies have endorsed risky projects that have been deemed controversial and unfavourable by various stakeholders. These projects have impacted the company through risks to their brand and litigation costs - all which represent real project costs to the company and its shareholders. 

Aside from outright violating the International Energy Agency’s calls for no new gas developments, these projects they have chosen to stick with will only attract future regulatory pressures and legal costs, with major gas projects being successfully challenged and delayed in overseas courts.[1]


Santos’ Barossa Gas Project has been at the centre of climate litigation, with Tiwi Island Elders filing a case against the project, halting the project back in 2022. The project would release 15.6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year - double the emissions of any other offshore Australian gas field. The Barossa project has proven to be costly both in dime and time, facing significant delays through climate litigation, and has been estimated to have overblown project costs by up to $800 million. 

Another controversial project led by Santos is the Narrabri Gas Project, which has proven to be one of New South Wales’ most controversial developments, receiving more than 23,000 submissions from people and bodies opposing the project, and 300 in support. Despite the immense controversy, risks and costs incurred, company and its board have made no attempt to rescind the gas projects.


Similarly at Woodside, gas projects have been pushed out despite widespread criticism and pushback. The Burrup Hub is one example, with experts calling the Burrup Hub “one of the most polluting gas projects in Australia”, emitting an estimated emissions of 6 billion tonnes of carbon pollution over its lifetime. 

While the Burrup also faced litigation challenges similar to the Barossa project, its costliness lies in the impact of the Safeguard Mechanism on the Burrup hub. Climate Energy Finance finds that Woodside will be subjected to up to $63 billion by 2050 as a result of the new Safeguard Mechanism reforms.[2] As at 20 March, Woodside's market capitalisation sits at $58 billion.

3. Neglecting shareholder views

In 2020, a large number of Santos and Woodside shareholders (43% and 50% respectively) supported a resolution put forward by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) calling for the gas giants to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement to limit global warming well below 2 degrees.[3]

The results from the resolutions demonstrated that shareholders were keen to see the gas giants move in a direction that was cohesive with the Paris agreement. Both companies have chosen to ignore their shareholders and continue expanding and developing new gas fields. Since 2020 and only months after the IEA report ruled out new gas developments, both Chairs have continued to advocate for some of the biggest gas projects Australia has ever had. 

It’s important for there to be accountability for the poor leadership demonstrated by Woodside and Santos, their commitment to risky and costly projects, and their disregard for shareholder views. Shareholders are urged to vote against the re-election of Goyder and Spence.

Woodside: Join the campaign to vote out Goyder here.
Santos: Join the campaign to vote out Spence here.





4-12 Buckland Street, Chippendale, 2008 NSW