A majority of Ballina Shire Councillors have voted to scrap a small investment handicap given to fossil fuel-free companies on behalf of ratepayers.
Debates over the relatively minor feature in the council’s investment policy have been going on for months in the council, leading to a vote in April to put the policy on public display for feedback.
Staff notes for the council’s June meeting agenda said of 56 submissions received, three supported the idea to get rid of what is known in accounting terms as a ‘preferential margin’ for non-fossil fuel aligned investments.
‘The remaining 53 submissions were supportive of Council reverting back to the previous policy or strengthening the policy for non-fossil fuel aligned investments,’ staff noted, adding that some responders wanted the council to strengthen rather than weaken its commitment to fossil fuel-free investments.
Dire warnings to stop funding fossil fuels ignored in Ballina
The move to effectively stop bolstering support for investments that exclude fossil fuel-aligned companies was put to the council in March, barely a month after floods left thousands without power and telecommunications.
Hundreds of people in the Ballina Shire were isolated or evacuated as the Richmond River inundated West Ballina, Ballina’s town centre and small towns further downstream including Wardell and Cabbage Tree Island.
Ballina’s hospital had to be evacuated in the middle of the night, while an initial evacuation centre at the Cherry Street Sports Club soon had to be shifted owing to intensifying flood disaster.
Climate experts with the Bureau of Meteorology have since said the floods were not a direct result of climate change but that climate change was a factor.
Elsewhere, scientists contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Cimate Change have repeatedly warned that climate change is making weather disasters like floods and bushfires more common, more intense, and last longer.
The global experts have become more explicit about the link between human endeavours and climate change in recent reports, recently saying support for more fossil fuel production is incompatible with efforts to mitigate global warming.
Millions spent on climate disaster response, but $9,000 too much to lose on ‘green’ investments
Back in the Ballina shire, council staff and some councillors have argued the council’s financial position isn’t strong enough to continue supporting non-fossil fuel aligned investments via a ‘preferential margin’ of 0.05% previously in place.
Staff gave the example of the investment policy potentially costing ratepayers around $9,000 per year in missed profit opportunities.
The Ballina Shire Council revealed at the same June meeting its receipt of more than $2.3 million from the state government to respond to and recover from its flood crisis.
Most of the money is expected to be spent on road repairs.
Meanwhile, the state government has promised to build a temporary housing village in Wardell for up to 400 people experiencing homelessness thanks to floods and landslides, while 25 temporary emergency housing dongers have been installed on a sports field in Wollongbar.
The government’s budget for the temporary emergency housing project is $350 million.
Millions of dollars’ worth of public money has been allocated to disaster recovery in other ways, such as grants for individuals, businesses and, indeed, councils.
Ballina council staff invest rate-payer money in more fossil fuel projects
The Ballina Shire Council’s investment portfolio was worth around $97 million as of the end of May, council staff noted.
During that month, four of the council’s ‘fossil investments’ matured, staff said, at a value of $7 million.
Staff advised they had used the money to invest in three new funds via what they described as a ‘fossil fuel aligned institution’.
They said quotes obtained from non-fossil fuel aligned institutions were up to 1.63% less than the fossil fuel aligned institution quotes.
Staff noted low portfolio investment yields were expected to have a continued effect over the next twelve months.
Elsewhere in the agenda notes, staff gave examples of council investments and returns, using a typical council investment of $1 million.
Staff said adopting a ‘green investment margin of 0.05% as per the original policy’ would result in foregone income of $500 over twelve months, based on the maximum difference.
Mayor’s team votes against extra support for fossil fuel-free investments
Councillors debated the investment policy for about an hour, including various amendments and points of order.
The debate started with a heated argument over an email Cr Jeff Johnson reportedly shared with residents.
The email reportedly told residents the mayor’s elected team was supporting an end to the council’s small but progressive climate action in terms of investment.
Ultimately, the mayor’s team (Crs Sharon Cadwallader, Eva Ramsey, Rod Bruem and Nigel Buchanen) voted accordingly, although the final motion included ‘clarification’ on ‘green’ investments.
With the support of Crs Phil Meehan and Stephen McCarthy, the staff recommendation to drop extra support for fossil fuel-free investments was adopted.
Greens’ Crs Simon Chate and Kiri Dicker voted against, along with Crs Jeff Johnson and Eoin Johnston.