Support to divest put to the test

Thursday, 23 October, 2014

The University of Melbourne staff and students surveyed in a ‘referendum’ are 97 per cent in favour of the university’s divestment from fossil fuels. The referendum was held in September and received 1,876 votes. This latest initiative from Fossil Free MU challenges the university on its commitment to climate change action.

At the end of the referendum, a small crowd gathered around four empty seats reserved for Chancellor Elizabeth Alexander, Financial Officer Allan Tait, Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis and Director of Finance James Bolton to hear the results announced on South Lawn.

Fossil Free MU Divestment Alliance Coordinator Koel Wrigley said the event was not just to announce the results.

“I think the real aim of this is to bring Glyn Davis back to the discussion table,” Wrigley said.

Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis told Farrago that the university does not directly invest in fossil fuels.

As a response, he said, “the university has committed to creating new investment vehicles to ensure funds received in future are placed in the market in ways consistent with the intentions of donors.”

Fossil Free is part of global activist network 350.org, which is campaigning and holding ‘referendums’ on divestment in Australian universities. Divestment is a strategic tactic designed to impart economic pressure through the reduction of funding for particular industries.

The exact details of the university’s investment in fossil fuels are not publicly known. Fossil Free MU obtained this information via a Freedom of Information request, but under agreement with the university can only reveal the confirmed existence of fossil fuel investments.

350.org National Campus Divestment Coordinator Vicky Fysh said the university had a moral obligation to divest from fossil fuels.

She said the university understands its role in affecting future generations through commitments to sustainability. However she is unsure how these can be achieved without also divesting.