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Greenpeace launches campaign against USyd coal investment

Tim Asimakis reports on a campaign aimed at stopping USyd from investing in Whitehaven Coal.

Greenpeace today launched a campaign against the University of Sydney’s investment in Whitehaven Coal Limited, the company behind a controversial new mine at Maules Creek in country NSW.

Greenpeace CEO David Ritter spoke at the University Quadrangle today, joined by NTEU Sydney University Branch President Michael Thomson and Clo Schofield, a student from the Fossil Free USyd group.

The University, which outsources components of its diversified investment portfolio to specialist managers, has close to $1 million worth of holdings in Whitehaven Coal.

Ritter called on the University to reverse its decision to “recklessly invest in a company that is constructing the largest coal mine in Australia.”

Whitehaven’s proposed Maules Creek mine has generated staunch opposition from environmentalists, ecologists, Aboriginal elders, and farmers.

If made operational, the mine is expected to produce over 30 million tons of CO2 – more than the entirety of NSW’s transport sector. Its construction will also endanger local ecosystems, according to ecologist Phil Spark, who has asked the University to be aware that it is complicit in funding a company that “is systematically destroying some of Australia’s most rare and endangered woodland habitats.”

In his statement, Ritter also claimed the University’s money had been used by Whitehaven Coal to bulldoze Gomeroi cultural heritage sites to make way for the mine.

Dolly Talbot, a Gomeroi spokesperson, said, “The Gomeroi elders and community are shocked to find that the University of Sydney has shares in a company such as Whitehaven coal when this company has caused so much pain for our elders and community. To find that ethical sponsorship is not at the forefront of the University’s decision making is upsetting, shameful and extremely disconcerting.”

Ritter was quick to suggest that the Whitehaven investment contradicted the University’s Investment Policy, which states that funds should be invested according to Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance principles. A spokesperson for the University today reaffirmed that commitment, saying “the University of Sydney takes its environmental and social responsibilities seriously.”

“Our portfolio is under constant review to ensure our social, environmental and governance responsibilities are balanced with our responsibilities to students, staff and donors,” they said.

Clo Schofield from Fossil Free USyd, a student organization affiliated with the SRC’s Environment Collective, added support to the campaign and situated it within a global context of fossil fuel divestment. Earlier this year Stanford University decided that it would no longer make direct investments in coal miners, while the Australian National University is currently refining its ethical investment policy.

Amidst supporting the Greenpeace action, Schofield explained that Fossil Free USyd had broader divestment goals for the University, which it hopes to achieve through a “long term, community-based, consultative campaign”. The movement is currently collecting signatures for a referendum of the student body on the University’s fossil fuel investments.

 Photograph: Sam J. Queen