Moore / Pilloried, but a victory for careful thinking

“Bravo ANU. Bravo to the students, lecturers and community groups who have maintained the pressure for divestment. Future generations are going to thank you,” says political columnist MICHAEL MOORE

ANU vice-chancellor Prof Ian Young... history will be kind. Photo by Silas Brown

ANU vice-chancellor Prof Ian Young… history will be kind. Photo by Silas Brown

HISTORY will be kind to the Australian National University’s vice-chancellor Ian Young, to the chancellor and to the ANU Council for their role in adopting a morally responsible approach to divestment.

In the short term they have been pilloried by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Education Minister and a range of industry executives.

Divesting investment from seven specific resource companies with a focus on the carbon-producing sector in order to play a role in protecting world the environment for future generations is the sort of discerning approach that ought to be coming out of an institution that is at the leading edge of thinking across the world.

What is really interesting in this case is that it is not just thinking. The university has critically examined and analysed the evidence (its normal role) and, additionally in this case, they have taken action.

The response of senior ministers in the government has been to shoot from the hip: no careful thinking; no long-term vision; shoot the messenger.

The ANU is regularly rated amongst the top couple of dozen universities in the world. In the world! It should surprise no-one that the institution is at the centre of advanced thinking. Surely it ought to be expected of our political leadership that this divestment action should be carefully assessed, examined by their own staff and delegated to the appropriate department within the public service so that a considered response could be provided.

The stance of these federal politicians must surprise many constituents who believed the government’s rhetoric around freedom.

It is not long ago that the Abbott government was the champion of freedom. The ministers were as keen as mustard not to interfere with business, to deregulate, and even to get rid of restrictions on racial vilification. All in the name of freedom.

The ANU is the second biggest employer in the ACT, after the public service. However, the government seems to have lost its enthusiasm for freedom for such a big business.

It is not the time for freedom. It is the time for hypocrisy. As your columnist pointed out last week, the Abbott government is confused in what it considers freedom. In this case when freedom to make decisions without interference does not seem to suit their mining mates the notion of freedom is suddenly chucked out the window.

This is the government, of course, that has taken the opposite stance. While salary earners and the less well-off in our community are asked to “shoulder their fair share of the burden” of taxation, “to do the heavy lifting”, the coal and other fossil-fuel mining industries receive support from the government. Instead of divesting in carbon, the government has removed the carbon tax. Instead of divesting, the government has given a tax break to all of corporate Australia. Instead of divesting carbon-producing companies, the government’s own investment portfolios continue to support the carbon-based industries.

The ANU’s decision now increases the pressure on the ACT government, which does have a responsible investment policy. In mid-September Treasurer, Andrew Barr, was presented with a letter from more than 20 community groups led by 350.Org.

Spokesman Josh Creaser said: “Despite having a responsible investments policy and strong commitment to climate action, the ACT government holds shares in some of the most notorious coal and coal-seam gas companies in Australia including Whitehaven Coal, Santos and Glencore.”

The extent of support by the federal government for this industry raises serious questions. With such limited declarations on donations to political parties, with such a lack of transparency, questions do need to be asked about the motivation to so vigorously defend, support and protect such industry.

Divestment does not fit easily for the current government. It is only last year that the government’s Future Fund finally divested in tobacco – a product that kills well over half of the people who use it according to the manufacturers’ directions.

Bravo ANU. Bravo to the students, lecturers and community groups who have maintained the pressure for divestment. Future generations are going to thank you when they contrast myopic financial focus with genuine long-term vision.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

 

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