Last Wednesday, the University of Sydney branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) unanimously passed a motion calling on UniSuper to withdraw its investments in companies linked to asylum seeker detention.
UniSuper are the superannuation fund for the majority of USyd’s 7500 staff. Staff super contributions are part of Australia’s detention supply chain, with UniSuper investing in companies such as Transfield Services, Serco and Decmil Group Ltd, who build and operate Australia’s detention centres.
The NTEU’s USyd branch has asked the NTEU to pressure UniSuper to reveal any further connections to the detention network and to withdraw all investment.
Michael Thomson, NTEU USyd branch President, was adamant that UniSuper divest from these companies and that Manus Island be shut down.
“Transfield is playing a role in jailing people who are fleeing poverty and persecution and Transfield is making profits from it. As far as I’m concerned, we want to take as much social action as we can to stop them from doing this,” he said.
In February, Transfield Services entered a $1.22 billion contract with the federal government to operate both the Manus Island and Nauru offshore detention centres. UniSuper also has almost 780,000 shares in Decmil, a mining contractor awarded nearly $200 million worth of government contracts to build and expand the Manus Island detention facilities.
The motion, passed at the NTEU USyd general meeting of 50-80 people, calls mandatory detention “wrong and harmful”, and points to UniSuper’s investment profile as a “major point of influence for the NTEU”.
“A decision by UniSuper not to invest in firms that collaborate with the Australian Government in the mandatory detention regime can make a significant difference to the capacity and willingness of those firms to participate in this abusive regime, as well as the capacity of Government to find commercial partners through which to implement the policy,” the motion stated.
The union branch’s move comes after the Sydney Biennale severed ties with Transfield earlier this month due to pressure from artists pulling out. “We have listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale and have decided to end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately,” Biennale organisers said in a statement.
The NTEU has one representative on UniSuper’s board. The campaign is only in its early stages, with Michael Thomson holding discussions with NTEU members across NSW and Australia. As to the sway NTEU holds over UniSuper, Thomson says we will have to wait and see.