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How USyd funds gunboats, attack helicopters, heat-seeking missiles for US military

USyd’s $3.41 billion investment portfolio is linked to F-35 fighter planes, Patriot missile systems, Apache helicopters, Predator UAVs, and heat-seeking Javelin missile systems.

USyd’s $3.41 billion investment portfolio is shrouded in secrecy, protected by a web of bureaucracy and only accessible through Freedom of Information legislation. So, what is the University hiding?

Well, even after Honi acquired access to the portfolio, the answer to that question was not immediately clear. USyd’s investments are scattered across various privately managed funds around the world, the contents of which are not always publicly disclosed. Honi previously uncovered that multiple funds in the portfolio had millions invested in fossil fuel companies. Now, Honi can reveal that two funds in the portfolio, as of 30 November 2021, invested in manufacturers of military equipment.

Gunboats

USyd had $22.4 million invested in HarbourVest Partners, one of the largest private equity funds in the world and responsible for $75 billion in assets. Part of HarbourVest’s investment strategy is purchasing companies, growing them, and then selling them for profit.

In 2010, HarbourVest acquired SafeBoats International, an American manufacturer of military boats and primary supplier of combat vessels to the US Navy. Since October of last year, HarbourVest has been contracted by the US Navy for $166.1 million for the production of 8 combat-ready Mk VI Patrol Boats. In September last year, SafeBoats was awarded a foreign defence contract worth up to $864.5 million for 16 Mk VI’s to be supplied to the Ukrainian Navy. SafeBoats has also produced boats for the Iraqi Navy, Mexican Navy, and Gibraltar law enforcement. SafeBoats previous company motto was ‘God, Country and Fast Boats’.

Missiles, attack helicopters, attack drones

In 2019, HarbourVest acquired Hermetic Solutions Group, a manufacturer of crucial electronics mechanisms for missile, radar, surveillance, and warfare systems. Hermetic provides design support, products, and materials for a number of defence programs for the US military. These include the F-35 fighter planes, Patriot missile systems, Apache helicopters, Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and heat-seeking Javelin missile systems.

Armoured military vehicles

USyd had $42.6 million invested in THB Asset Management, an investment fund with $440 million in assets. 5.4% of THB’s funds are held in TPI Composites Incorporated. While predominantly a manufacturer of blades for wind turbines, TPI also develops materials and designs for armoured military vehicles. In 2010, TPI announced that its All Composite Military Vehicle (ACMV) passed testing for use by the US Military.

According to TPI’s CEO: “Not only will this vehicle give our troops increased mobility, its lighter, high-strength composition will allow for significant fuel efficiency and potentially allow for the addition of enhanced armor or greater payload. This is a huge step forward in military vehicle engineering.”

Unlearn missile launchers?

Currently, USyd  excludes tobacco companies and cluster munitions – munitions that drop clusters of explosives over a wide area – from their portfolio. According to a University spokesperson, “the Investment Subcommittee of the Senate considered the fund’s performance in an ESG (Environmental, Social, and corporate Governance) context” in 2021.

Such measures suggest a degree of ethical consideration in USyd’s investment strategy. How, then, do investments in THB and HarbourVest make the cut?

This is perhaps best explained by looking at the resumé of our esteemed Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson.

USyd is run by a munitions company chair

Since 2015, Hutchinson has served as Chairperson of Thales Australia, the national subsidiary of Thales Group. Aside from being the eighth largest arms manufacturer in the world, Thales is infamous for allegations of human rights violations, bribery and corruption, and is the subject of a complaint to the International Criminal Court for supplying products to a Yemeni government accused of war crimes.

Hutchinson’s leadership over USyd, then, is a symbolic and practical barrier to any meaningful divestment from military manufacturing. As Chancellor, Hutchinson also Chairs the very Senate that governs USyd’s investment practices – a clear conflict of interest if the Investment Committee was to reconsider military links.

From an ideological viewpoint, Hutchinson’s high-ranking association with munitions undermines the social, educational and humanitarian ideals that underpin the operation of a university for the betterment of society; for the public good. Hutchinson’s blocking of meaningful reform to investment strategy only compounds the reality that her Chancellorship is untenable.

Both problems lay squarely at the feet of Hutchinson, and both problems can only be solved by her removal. 

In 2021, RMIT and the University of Newcastle forced out their Chancellors for holding Chairperson positions in gambling and mining companies respectively. As a purported leader in tertiary education, there is only one way that USyd can progress: Belinda Hutchinson must be fired.