Here’s one way to measure the level of community concern over coal mining and coal seam gas. Market Forces asked The Australia Institute to survey superannuation fund members’ attitudes towards environmentally responsible investment. The results will be empowering for activists, campaigners and local community groups resisting the attempted coal and gas boom taking place in Australia.
A quarter of respondents said they would be prepared to change their super fund if their current one was found to be invested in coal mining and coal seam gas, based on their concerns over these industries’ environmental impact. In their paper documenting this result, The Australia Institute estimates this proportion to represent a pool of funds of around $247 billion.
Underscoring the power of this result is the fact that Australians are highly disengaged with their super fund. Most people won’t communicate with the managers of their retirement funds to try and minimise costs or maximise returns, let alone ensure that their retirement is built on investments that match their personal values and ethics. Having a quarter of people willing to change funds on the basis of coal mining and CSG speaks volumes about community concern.
Make no mistake though. This will take work. As things stand today not a cent of this $247 billion has been shifted and really, this is a measure of potential. The actual amount of money that could be shifted on the basis of these issues is somewhere between $0 and $247 billion. What the exact figure is will depend on how advocates for environmental protection make sure super funds take the risk of loss of business seriously.
The result alone is a good start. Imagine walking into a business and telling them they could lose a quarter of their customers because of one or two fixable issues. It’s fair to expect they’d want to know how they could address those issues.
Hopefully many super funds will take a look at their investments as a result of this research and remove coal mining and CSG from their portfolios. It might take a bit of work but HESTA has shown it to be possible with tobacco so funds are clearly capable of screening out certain types of investment. However, one suspects that until super funds see that continuing to invest in these industries is losing them members, they’ll continue with business as usual.
Market Forces has made the first step in helping Australians engage their super fund and force them to either clean up their act or lose business. We’ve sent a questionnaire to every super fund in the country, asking them how much they are invested in coal mining and coal seam gas, what policies they use to guide investment decisions in these industries and whether they have any plans to change these policies. We’ll be publishing the results so members can see how their fund performs and compare it with others.
Last week, Lock the Gate launched “Call to Country”. It’s a stirring and moving call to action asking Australians to use this election year to engage with their MP and make them take responsibility for protecting Australia against inappropriate coal and gas mining. This is exactly the sentiment and type of action we need, but we need to also go beyond politicians and to others that represent us and influence the fact or projects that would ravage the environment.
Banks, super funds and other financial institutions make investment decisions on our behalf every day, often contradicting our environmental values and beliefs. Campaigners, local community groups and activists will need to be conscious of the vital role that finance plays in enabling dirty projects, and be prepared to take on those who are investing our money in environmental destruction, if we are going to successfully protect Australia’s environment against the fossil fuel boom.
Julien Vincent is a Campaigner at Market Forces.For more information on this issue, including the raw polling data and a copy of the questionnaire sent to every super fund in the country, visit www.marketforces.org.au/super