Walkley Foundation reviews sponsorship policy as climate boycott heats up

The Walkley Foundation is undertaking a review of its sponsorship policy amid increasing industry pressure over a commercial partnership between it and fuel supplier Ampol.

Cartoonists are leading a boycott of the 68th edition of the Awards, with past winners including The Australian Financial Review’s David Rowe and The Age’s Matt Golding following the lead of The Saturday Paper’s Jon Kudelka, who announced his boycott in a blog post this week, due to the partnership.

The Walkley Awards is facing heat from a number of Australian cartoonists.
The Walkley Awards is facing heat from a number of Australian cartoonists.

Despite the growing boycott around the awards, the foundation said applications for this year’s awards are all in, with the door slamming shut on entries on Thursday.

Shona Martyn, CEO of the Walkley Foundation, declined to disclose the details of the investment made by Ampol, saying that all sponsorship arrangements are confidential.

“The Walkley Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation registered with the Australian Charities and not-for-profit Commission,” Martyn said.

The Walkley Foundation’s financial report for 2022 – the year the Platinum partnership with Ampol began – lists its total revenue from sponsorship and awards as $1,453,748. This marked a significant rise from the $973,874 listed in 2021.

The Walkley Awards have close historical ties to Ampol as they were founded by Sir William Gaston Walkley in 1956, who was also the founder of the petroleum company. Ampol became the name partner for the awards show in 2022, shortly after returning to its original branding from Caltex.

Asked when and where the review into its sponsors was previously announced, the Walkley Foundation clarified it had not made the announcement before. The foundation was also asked for further details around the scope of the review.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said the sponsorship review was part of a broader examination of all of its policies.


“The foundation has previously announced it is undertaking a review of its sponsorship policy as part of a review of all its policies and procedures,” she said. “That review is ongoing.”

Kudelka outlined on his blog on Wednesday why he had been prompted to act, referencing an opinion piece written by Belinda Noble, founder of Comms Declare, on trade website Mumbrella in May.

Founder of Comms Declare, Belinda Noble
Founder of Comms Declare, Belinda Noble

Comms Declare is a communications group which lobbies against fossil fuel companies and their presence in media, marketing and advertising.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age cartoonist Cathy Wilcox, and David Pope, cartoonist for The Canberra Times, wrote an open letter to The Walkley Foundation and its board on Friday, asking it to divest its fossil fuel sponsorship, and to refuse any future sponsorship opportunities with fossil fuel partners.

Noble told this masthead on Friday that she hopes the Walkleys will drop Ampol as a sponsor.

“It’s not surprising cartoonists were the first,” Noble said. “They’re our most keen social observers, and they’re used to tackling our most grim realities with sort of humour and without fear or favour.”

Noble said it would be “great” to see more mainstream journalists take on the boycott.

On the Walkley Foundation’s website, Ampol’s CEO and managing director, Matt Halliday, is quoted as saying in 2022: “It is about recognising the history of the founder of Ampol.”

He continues: “[Fossil] fuel is going to disappear over the next couple of decades … The role that governments will need to play – and companies – in shaping what society is going to look like over the next 10, 20, 30 years, you need to have a very independent and capable media to … arbitrate that debate effectively.”

Noble questioned what else it will take for the Walkleys “to realise that journalism’s role is to call out influence peddling and corporate wrongs”, rather than be a “tool” for business. “[The foundation] can’t pretend they are above corporate influence.”

She said as the most prestigious journalism awards in Australia, the Walkleys will easily find a replacement sponsor, should it part ways with Ampol. “In fact, Ampol is only one of many sponsors already.”

The 2022 award for Coverage of Community and Regional Affairs was won by the ABC’s North Coast Team for their coverage of the Northern Rivers floods – an award sponsored by BHP.

Martyn said the foundation respects the right of all media professionals to decide which awards they wish to enter.

The Walkley Awards introduced two new categories in 2023 – Specialist and Beat Reporting and Explanatory Journalism.

The former provides an opportunity for journalists covering a specific subject or round, the foundation said, “such as science, health, environment, technology, transport, arts, education or crime with a dedicated awards destination for their work”.

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