July 16, 2016
“HAVE they lost their marbles completely?” the publisher of the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times, Michael Giles, demanded in an editorial this week.
What had so incensed him was an internal Bass Coast Council report on the costs and options of divesting council investments away from banks and other financial institutions that fund fossil fuel developments.
“There’s even a motion, to be put before the council next week, for it to ‘prioritise investments in environmentally and socially responsible financial institutions’,” Mr Giles wrote scornfully.
He argued that the council “has no mandate for stuffing around with our money, especially in these tight times”. “If the mob sitting around the council table at the moment can’t see that, we should chuck the lot of them out at election time.”
The argument that we can’t afford to behave ethically is familiar. In the 18th century, American plantation owners argued that the American economy would collapse without slave labour. In the 19th century, British industrialists argued that the British economy would collapse without child labour. In the 21st century, the coal lobby argues that the Australian economy will collapse without coal-fired power and coal exports.
In 20 years’ time, living in a post-coal economy, we will look back in amazement at the arguments for coal mining, just as we now do at the quaint 18th and 19th century justifications for keeping slaves and employing 10-year-olds in cotton mills.
As for the council report on “ethical banking”, it recommends that, all other things being equal, the council should deposit its funds in financial institutions that are ethical rather than those that invest in fossil fuels.
For all Mr Giles’ indignation, our councillors are not alone in considering their wider environmental and social obligations. Last year, 13 Australian councils voted to divest from the big four banks if they continued to fund coal, oil, and gas projects. They included Newcastle, home of the world's biggest coal port, and Melbourne City Council, where divestment was unanimously supported by all 11 councillors, including the mayor Robert Doyle, a former state Liberal leader not noted for his bleeding-heart, greenie sentiments.
The National Tertiary Education Union recently became the first Australian union to divest fossil fuel holdings from its $4 billion investment portfolio. Other superannuation funds are considering following suit.
A report in The Guardian on November 29, 2015 stated that worldwide, the value of funds committed to selling off their investments in coal, oil and gas companies increased 50-fold in 2015. In May last year, Norway’s Parliament voted to sell off coal investments from its $900 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest.
Back in the 1920s, some people continued to insist that shares in companies that made buggy wheels were a sound investment, and that farriers would always have work. That didn’t stop the automobile taking over. The rush to divest from the coal economy appears equally unstoppable.
Mr Giles argues that instead of worrying about “ethical banking”, the council should be getting on with more important matters, such as the Wonthaggi Recreation Reserve Master Plan. Perhaps we could do both.
“More important issues” are always with us, as are "tight times". There is always some more pressing need, usually to do with some people becoming very rich. Only in retrospect do we recognise that, actually, we had it pretty good and we should have achieved more than we did.
"Some gentlemen may, indeed, object to the slave trade as inhuman and evil; but let us consider that, if our colonies are to be cultivated, which can only be done by African negroes, it is surely better to supply ourselves with those labourers in British ships, than buy them from French, Dutch or Danish traders."
Temple Luttrell, speech to the British Parliament, May 23, 1777
"He thought the view of all really sensible men who had considered the subject, was that they did not desire or require the assistance of women in the House of Commons, and that they did not seem it fitting that women should come down into the arena of politics and engage generally in public affairs."
Report of speech by Samuel Evans, Liberal MP for Mid-Glamorgan, to British Parliament, April 25, 1906, speaking against the motion to give women the vote.
“There’s even a motion, to be put before the council next week, for it to ‘prioritise investments in environmentally and socially responsible financial institutions. Have they lost their marbles completely?”
Michael Giles, South Gippsland Sentinel-Times, July 12, 2016
July 20, 2016
Ethical banking, what a joke. From a council that needs consultants to do their own jobs for them – consult with their community. We have yet another time wasting issue when more pressing issues are at hand. If a business were to run their business on the council’s model, they would have gone bankrupt by now. Fortunately the council just has to increase rates indefinitely to pay for their fancies and frivolous decisions.
June 17, 2016
It's easy enough to dismiss the Bass Coast Shire's efforts to invest ethically as wasting time or tokenism. But, as Catherine Watson point out, it puts the shire on the right side of history.
Thanks for placing their decision making in context, and in a bigger frame than localised point scoring. These incremental decisions and gestures by organisations add up to genuine and significant change over time.
Linda Gordon, Wonthaggi
In the 1960s when the state government decided to stop coal mining in Wonthaggi there was anxiety, fear and criticism. What would men do for work? Would wonthaggi become a ghost town? Sure, mining was dangerous, unhealthy work (it still is) and steam trains started the odd bushfire but steam engines had a heritage going back over 150 years. But the dollars didn’t stack up.
Today if the cost of human lives due to air pollution (half of all lung cancers are in people who never smoked) and extreme weather events is factored in, coal mines are not an ethical investment.
And Wonthaggi did not perish; it adapted, thanks largely to its local beaches. These are now under threat from sea level rise and increasing storm frequency.
Our council should be supported for its world-view, forward planning. Our taxes and rates should not be subsidising coal but invested in new technology.
Frank Coldebella, Wonthaggi