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Byron Shire
September 26, 2023

60% of Ballina Council investments in fossil fuel aligned companies

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Local governments on the Northern Rivers have declared climate emergencies and pledged net zero goals but are still investing massively with banks that support fossil fuel projects

The Ballina Shire Council had more than $60 million invested in fossil fuel aligned companies on behalf of ratepayers as of the end of April 2023.

Of $107.3 million in various investments, mostly with fossil fuel aligned banks, the largest share at 14.9% was with Westpac, followed by 14% with the Commonwealth Bank (CBA)and 13% in the National Australia Bank (NAB).

Together the three major banks represented nearly 42% of the total council investment portfolio.

A detailed staff graph showed none of the three were classified as fossil fuel free or green.

Greens councillor depressed over fossil fuel support

A further 6.5% of investment funds were allocated to each of the Bank of Queensland and ME Bank and 4.8% to AMP Bank, with none of those three classified as fossil fuel free or Green.

Greens Councillor Kiri Dicker said at a recent council meeting she just got depressed about fossil fuel investment all the time.

‘I actually, like, how many times can they release an IPCC report that says in some other wording that, you know, we’re doomed effectively?’ Cr Dicker asked rhetorically at the May ordinary council meeting, referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

‘And like, part of me thinks it’s too late,’ Cr Dicker said, ‘to be honest, I think we’re probably on a pathway to extinction anyway.’

‘Anything that’s going to starve the fossil fuel industry of money that it needs to operate I would obviously support.’

Time for the public to have their say

Around 37.5% of the portfolio was classified as fossil fuel free or Green, including funds with Suncorp, BankVic, Auswide Bank, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, Defence Bank and Police Bank.

The figure was an increase of around 3 percentage points compared to March figures, with staff saying they’d made $8 million worth of new investments in April, including $5 million in ‘non-fossil fuel aligned institutions’.

Staff at May’s ordinary council meeting indicated future possibilities for more non-fossil fuel aligned projects with the introduction of increased investment quotas or percentages for B rated investments.

An amended Ballina Shire Council investment policy with the suggested increases was approved for public display and feedback at the meeting.

Council staff said their assessments showed B rated institutions as acceptable.

‘It does increase our level of risk in regard to where we’re investing, so that’s a consideration that staff need to take every time they do an investment,’ staff said.

‘In regard to the reasoning behind that, to go fossil fuel free and green investments is obviously a factor, but it also enables us to diversify our portfolio,’ staff said.

Bruem says Ballina’s green investments double Byron’s

‘Our numbers are pretty similar to Lismore at the moment,’ Cr Bruem said when supporting the amended investment policy for public display, ‘and about double what Byron Shire is doing, which is interesting’.

‘I think there are many people in the shire who have a very hard-headed and sensible approach to this topic,’ Cr Bruem said, ‘and they still view fossil fuels as legal and a legal business in the country’.

‘They don’t necessarily see it as something to be avoided all at all costs,’ he said.

‘Once again, there’s diverse views in our shire on this.’

Byron council sets low bar example for fossil fuel divestment

Byron Shire Council investment figures for the end of April 2023 showed it had more than $72 million of ratepayer money in various banks, again mostly aligned with fossil fuel companies.

More than 29% of the funds were in a CBA Business Saver account, excluding some $660,000 in a separate CBA Business Saver account for a Tourism Infrastructure Grant Fund, representing more than $22 million banked with the CBA in total.

Nearly 24% of Byron Shire Council’s investment funds –$17 million – was invested across nine accounts with the NAB.

Another $10 million was in a Macquarie Accelerator Call account, but that didn’t include $7 million spread across seven other Macquarie accounts, representing another 24% of Byron Shire Council’s investment funds.

The three banks together represented 77% of Byron Shire’s investments and weren’t classified as fossil fuel free.

They didn’t include the other fossil fuel aligned accounts in the likes of the Bank of QLD, and AMP etc.

Fossil fuel free aligned investments accounted for less than $10 million or less than 14% of Byron Shire Council’s portfolio.

Cr Bruem was therefore inaccurate when he said Ballina Council invested twice as much as Byron in so-called green funds – on percentages alone, Ballina is investing closer to three times as much and that’s before its substantially bigger portfolio is taken into account.

Lismore City Council leads region towards ‘ethical’ investments

As for the Lismore City Council, reports presented to councillors in May showed more than $114 million invested on behalf of ratepayers.

Staff noted the council was ‘actively seeking Ethical Investments’ and had increased the ratio held to 40%, with another $14 million recently included.

Staff said ‘ethical’ investments included fossil fuel free investments.

‘The Ethical Investments products available to Council are currently limited and as with any investment, needs to be managed in line with Council’s cashflow requirements, Investment Strategy, and the risk to capital,’ staff said.

Staff said council investment decisions also had to comply with the ‘Minister’s Investment Order’ and the ‘Investment Policy adopted by Council’.

Tweed council fossil fuel investment unclear

Further north in the Tweed Shire, a council Investment Report Pack for the month of April showed a much bigger portfolio than Byron, Ballina and Lismore put together.

The report said the council had nearly $420 million invested on behalf of ratepayers.

The data didn’t label investments according to their fossil fuel alignments but most banks used were the same as those used by other local governments.

The Tweed Shire Council had more than $70 million invested with the CBA, representing nearly 17% of its portfolio.

Westpac represented more than 13% of the portfolio, ING more than 7%, NAB nearly 7% and the Bank of Queensland more than 6%.

The major banks listed above represented 50% of the Tweed Shire Council’s investment portfolio but didn’t include all investments with fossil fuel aligned accounts.

Smaller investments were held in other fossil fuel aligned accounts, such as nearly $9 million with the Macquarie Bank, representing more than 2% of the portfolio, but more investigation would be required to reach a total figure.

Calculating how much money the Tweed Shire Council had invested with accounts that don’t sponsor fossil fuel projects was more difficult, but there was more than $46.2 million with Suncorp-Metway and $8 million with BankVic, two banks the Ballina Shire Council had labelled green.

Preliminary analysis suggested the council had at least $54.2 million or 13% of its investment portfolio in non-fossil fuel aligned projects.

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  1. Australia is moving to the more expensive renewables at an imprudent rate, contrasted against our smarter SE Asian countries.
    These countries show the true reality of our present situation regarding ‘fossil’ fuels – but strangely seem immune from activist demos or swingeing media reporting here in Oz.
    Australia will need to continue to use our traditional base-load sources of power for some time in the future, if only as a gradual transition, rather than our present fanatical rush.
    We appear to be stuck in a European-malaise mind-set presently, with an over-emphasis on ‘green power’ and thus moving far too fast towards a country-wide dangerous electrical-power deficit.
    This popular mind-set will very soon adversely affect our future living standards, jobs, industry, manufacturing and defense.

    • “…present fanatical rush.” The existential threat that is climate change, the climate science tells us what we need to do to have a hope of getting anywhere near the Paris Agreement to try and save ourselves from the increasingly dangerous impacts of climate change, we aren’t going at nearly a pace quick enough. And the Federal ALP Government isn’t helping affairs by Minister Plibersek on 17/2/23 approving the opening of 116 new gas wells in the Surat basin and then on 11/5/23 by approving the progression of four new coalmine projects.

      “expensive renewables”, the households and the businesses that have and keep on installing solar power know that your claim isn’t true.
      What is expensive is our the fossil fuel generated electricity system that we have. In particular, it is Gas that is cruelling our electricity pricing – it is expensive gas that sets the price in the NEM.

      • One thing the ideological Greens never have to worry is being kicked out of Govt- by the Aussie voters who are going broke paying energy bills and a Govt that can’t keep the lights on- because thank God they never get into Govt. And just what do you irresponsible clowns not understand about “as coal is being phased out more quickly than gas, gas being less pollutive will be required for at least the next decade until renewables are fully capable of taking over” I’m betting absolutely nothing as usual.


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