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Christine Milne: Divestment movement should put our government's yesterdays men on notice

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Christine Milne 10 Feb 2015

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, speaks on the growing worldwide movement to divest from fossil fuels, and celebrates Global Divestment Day held on 13 - 14 February 2015.

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:10): I rise today to welcome the growing worldwide movement to divest fossil fuels. I am celebrating the fact that Global Divestment Day is this 13 and 14 February, and what a great day it is going to be here and around the world. If governments will not act to save the climate, then people will. We are the last generation that has the capacity to act in time. That means there is a real sense of urgency and enthusiasm as people move to divest fossil fuels.

In 2013, author, activist and academic Bill McKibben visited Australia as part of the Do the Math Tour. He was here to discuss the carbon bubble, fossil fuels, climate change, civil disobedience and how we can get away from investing in coal. On his visit, he contended that the fossil fuel industry needed to lose its veneer of respectability, the way that the tobacco industry has done. He said:

If it's wrong to wreck the climate, then it's wrong to profit from that wreckage.
And he is absolutely right.

This call for divestment has been picked up by people around the world. Citizens are taking the power back from coal-addicted governments and voting with their hearts and their wallets, moving their money out of banks, superannuation funds and companies that profit from fossil fuels.

But the growing divestment movement should put our government's yesterday's men on notice. Here in Australia, we have seen Charlie Wood and, together with Market Forces, spearheading the divestment campaign. Meanwhile, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition is also challenging the big banks to protect the Great Barrier Reef and to stop financing new coalmines. Young people across the country are organising; we are seeing fossil fuel free groups in universities mobilising. Students and academics are calling for their universities to divest, giving students the option to invest their minds, their wallets and their fees-so to speak-in clean degrees from universities that share their values.

Fossil Free ANU has been running a strong campus-wide campaign to urge the university to divest. The ANU has committed to divesting its shareholdings in seven resource companies, and that is a great first step. The ANU's decision is a bellwether moment. The pendulum is swinging away from this Liberal government towards restoring our democracy and towards a clean energy future. The university faced a backlash from the Murdoch press, from The Australian and the Financial Review, but the decision stood and was vindicated. Stock prices have fallen, showing a return already on divestment.

The Fossil Free group at the University of Melbourne is also hard at work. Last year they used their graduation ceremony to present a letter signed by over 100 academics urging the university to divest. Staff and students at the Queensland University of Technology have been fighting hard against the deal done by QUT Business School with Adani, who are building the world's biggest coalmine in the Galilee basin. That Galilee mine is a crime against humanity. It has to be stopped. It will be a stranded asset, but the damage it will do to the climate if it is allowed to go ahead is unconscionable. Fossil Free UQ has mobilised over 1,000 students and more than 100 staff and academics with their petition and open letter directed to their vice-chancellor. They have been keeping the pressure on by awarding Risky Business Awards to Griffith University, QUT and UQ for their disappointing results under the global universities index. Fossil Free University of Sydney has been campaigning hard and this week the University of Sydney did announce that it will cut heavy polluters and some fossil fuel companies from its $413,000 share portfolio in an attempt to reduce the carbon footprint of its investments by 20 per cent over three years. Fossil Free University of Tasmania has been campaigning hard and urging its vice-chancellor, Peter Rathjen, to divest UTAS from this unprofitable industry, which is engaged in intergenerational theft. Fossil Free Newcastle, Fossil Free Griffith University, Fossil Free La Trobe University and Fossil Free Universities South Australia are all campaigning on their campuses as well.

But universities are not the only group to mobilise; religious groups are also showing moral leadership. Almost 50 religious institutions have committed to divesting from fossil fuels. The Quakers, the Uniting Church, numerous Anglican dioceses and the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change have all been playing a powerful role in moving Australia's economy out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. They are showing this moral leadership because they recognise that acting on global warming is a justice issue-that the poor around the world are already suffering and are the ones who have done the least to contribute to global warming but are suffering first and the most.

On a local government level, Marrickville councillors have voted for the council to divest over $15 million and have indicated that this will just be the start. They will be avoiding the use of the big four banks and will reinvest council money in fossil-free institutions. The Melbourne council of Moreland has done the same. In fact, it was one of the first to do so, as has the Fremantle council in Western Australia, which revised its investment policy to not place council funds into banks that support fossil fuels unless there is no alternative.

It is these young people-these campaigners and people who look at social justice and ethics. It is forward-thinking councils, organisations and institutions. They are all leading the way towards our clean energy future. They recognise that this is the future that the world is embracing and it is the only future that gives humanity a chance and also our natural environment a chance. We are going to see extinction on a grand scale. We are already seeing extreme weather events hurting people around the planet and here in Australia. Just recently, the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, Norway's government pension fund, worth $850 billion, removed 32 coalmining companies from its portfolio.

Meanwhile, the Liberal government here in Australia is driving Australia backwards as the world moves towards a clean energy future. Our government ministers are gladly and wilfully condemning Australia to a 'cut it down, dig it up, ship it out' future and not only compromising the opportunities for sustainability of the environment and community here in Australia but also taking away the opportunities for future generations. The attacks on the renewable energy target, on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, on the Climate Change Authority and on the Renewable Energy Agency, all in order to maximise the profits of the fossil fuel industry, are a disgrace.

Now, with organisations and individuals across Australia making the decision to divest from fossil fuels, it is time for Australia's public Future Fund to take a strong leadership role. As it did when it divested from tobacco, it should now divest from fossil fuels. The message is very strong: the Future Fund in Australia must divest from fossil fuels. That is clearly the right thing to do, the ethical thing to do and the environmentally sound and socially just thing to do. Interestingly, it is those investments in the ethical, new, climate-friendly future that are actually maximising returns as well. Now is the time for people to take the power back, to reject governments owned by the fossil fuel corporations, to restore our democracy, to restore hope for the future and to divest from fossil fuels.


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