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After discovering they've been funding climate change, 10,000 Australian academics are demanding UniSuper divest from fossil fuels

Jack Derwin
  • Revelations that UniSuper, Australia's default fund for university staff, has billions invested in fossil fuel companies has roiled members.
  • More than 10,000 of them have now signed a petition demanding the fund divest.
  • Market Forces, which circulated the petition, said "instead of paying lip-service, UniSuper can and must be at the vanguard of sustainable investment."
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

UniSuper is facing a revolt from it members.

After the Nine newspapers revealed the $85 billion super fund was heavily invested in fossil fuel companies, more than 10,000 of its members have signed a petition demanding the divestment of their retirement funds.

Started by activist group Market Forces, the petition calls on all university employees to make their voices heard, pressuring the default super fund to lead on climate change. It was revealed earlier this month the fund, which has nearly half a million members, has $7.82 billion invested in gas and oil companies including giants Santos and Woodside Petroleum.

On top of that, it has stakes totalling $170 million in thermal coal companies. UniSuper declined to respond to Business Insider Australia's questions regarding these investments.

"As the default superannuation fund for Australia’s academics, scientists, researchers and university employees, UniSuper should be leading investor action on climate change. Instead, billions of dollars of members’ retirement savings are invested in companies whose operations and plans are completely incompatible with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement," the petition reads.

Its investments were revealed alongside fellow funds AustralianSuper, HESTA and HostPlus. While each makes the argument they remain invested in order to enact positive change, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) begs to differ. Its data showed UniSuper, for example, voted against every one of 16 shareholder proposals pressuring its Australian fossil fuel companies to do better. While it's international voting track record is far better, supporting 95% of motions, it does demonstrate a divide between the interests of the funds and their members.

"While Australia’s scientific and academic community work towards climate change solutions at this time of unprecedented bushfire crisis, their superfund is showing reckless disregard by investing their retirement savings in the companies causing the problem," Market Forces asset management campaigner Will van de Pol said in a post announcing the petition.

"Instead of paying lip-service, UniSuper can and must be at the vanguard of sustainable investment."

It comes amid a growing divestment movement amongst big investors. BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, announced last month it would divest from companies with large exposures to thermal coal, due to the financial risks the fossil fuel posed.

While Australian National Universities (ANU) employees and students are expected to protest at peak body Universities Australia's conference in Canberra on Wednesday, there's little the union can do.

With UniSuper refusing to comment, at least for now it appears deaf to the calls of its members too.