Fossil Free Fact Check
After our bold series of actions on campus in April, more people than ever are on board our mission to get The University of Melbourne to divest from fossil fuels. We got heaps of media coverage, and some powerful messages across. However, a few myths, inconsistencies and strange declarations still managed to find their way into journalists' hands. Let's set the record straight!
Myth #1: Melbourne University does not invest in fossil fuels.
Melbourne University has repeatedly stated that they do not directly buy fossil fuel shares. This is technically true. It hires a firm (the Victorian Funds Management Corporation) to make and manage investments for them. Some of which are in fossil fuel companies. Finance spokespeople from the University appear to think that this makes all the difference, but to us it’s a pretty clear relationship with the companies that are destroying our future.
Even so, it seems there is still confusion coming from the mouths of the university chancellery. When asked whether the VFMC included fossil fuel companies in Melbourne University's investment portfolio, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Susan Elliot simultaneously suggested that there is complete transparency with the VFMC, and that the funds are "very difficult to follow".1
Talk about deliberate vagueness! When councillors are skirting around questions like this, surely it can only mean that they have something to hide. Since the university has refused to divest in the past, this is clear evidence that they know they have something to divest from.
Myth #2: We are a minority voice and do not represent the wider university community's views.
In the Australian, Elliott is also quoted as saying, "This is a relatively small number of students, and they can’t speak for the rest of the community.”2 With 3,500 campaign supporters, close to 3,000 followers across social media, 450 university academic and staff signatures on an open letter, and 97% of university respondents voting 'Yes' to divesting in a 2014 referendum, how exactly are we a "small number of students", and in what way are we misrepresenting the rest of the community?
Myth #3: Even with the political will, divestment may not be possible.
Early consultations between Fossil Free Melbourne University and key financial officers made it unclear if full divestment was currently possible with the VFMC. This has now been debunked. At a meeting on April 14th between University representatives and members of FFMU, Director Corporate Finance Dan Baird stated that in terms of the University's investments, "anything is possible". As many other institutions before us have shown, there are no technical barriers to divestment. Even in the worst-case scenario, if the VFMC can't provide an option, there is nothing stopping the University from switching fund managers. If the willpower is there, divestment can and will happen!
Melbourne University is financially benefitting from investments in fossil fuel companies made on its behalf by the VFMC. There is nothing 'unclear' about this. Fossil Free Melbourne University has been operating and growing as a campaign for over three years, and we have the support of a diverse body of students, staff, alumni and academics. Nothing is stopping Melbourne University from joining the global divestment movement except for a lack of will on the part of the Chancellery.
By Alex Mraz
1 ‘Students bare all to protest against University of Melbourne's investment in fossil fuels’, ABC News, April 19, 2016 <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-19/students-strip-off-to-protest-melbourne-uni-investments/7338544>
2 ‘University of Melbourne students’ naked support of divestment’, The Australian, April 19, 2016 <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/.../873dc857f024edcf7decafb080868d86?nk=688e84c6d9945fd290f5d8b4005e03ed-1461818616>