Unleash your money power

THOMAS WEARNE of East Fremantle says it’s important to make informed decisions with your money.

MOST of us try to be consciously good. We sign petitions and support charities we believe in. Unfortunately most people also unwittingly make their money available to things they don’t believe in, or would rather not support.

Most banks and superannuation companies invest with almost no consideration of common ethics using members’ funds. They invest in tobacco, weapons, offshore detention centres, old growth deforestation and environmentally devastating fossil fuel projects to name a few.

I first left one of Australia’s four largest banks 10 years ago because of the financial support it pledged to a pulp mill in Tasmania: I already worked for and donated to an organisation fighting the project so it didn’t make sense for me to provide financing! I spoke to friends and family at the time and found most were strangely wedded to their banks.

350.org is a group which has, at the core of its goals, an ambition to convince groups and individuals to divest their money from institutions which finance climate change-causing activities.

Divestment was used most notably to combat apartheid in South Africa. It can be thought of as a financial boycott for when emotional and rational arguments fail. Currently in Australia, steps are being fast-tracked to convert the Great Barrier Reef into a series of coal lanes, terminals and a dumping ground for dredging waste. There is no doubt this will devastate the Australian icon and UNESCO has warned it will label the reef “in danger”.

It’s also a huge failing in the global effort to combat climate change and so far, emotional and rational arguments have failed.

As a result of international pressure (or business sense), nine prominent, international banks have declared they will not finance the project and yet it is supported by Australia’s big four, which state they have an obligation to maximise shareholder profits. This typical response highlights why 350.org and others encourage divestment.

Simply put, if investing in certain projects leads to enough members quitting the bank and taking their money elsewhere, it would not be in the shareholders’ interest for the bank to invest.

Several banks and super funds, whih perform above industry averages, have stated they will not invest in such projects. Depending on your beliefs, these institutions may be more deserving custodians of your money.

This also protects your finances from what will ultimately become “stranded assets” as business-as-usual practices are rendered socially and commercially unfeasible.

While the divestment movement is just starting in Australia, around the world, prominent divestors including colleges, universities, foundations, cities and religious institutions have made pledges. Most notable in Australia was ANU’s decision to divest from seven companies and the City of Fremantle’s decision to become the first Australian local government to not use financial institutions which support fossil fuel industries.

On February 3, you can hear Mayor Brad Pettitt speak before a screening of 350.org’s Do the Math movie. I encourage interested readers to attend and bring your divestment questions with you. The screening is Tuesday February 3 from 7–8.30pm at Fremantle council’s reception room (entry via the curved stairs at the back of the building, next to the playground).

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