By Michael Giles

IS the question of ‘ethical banking’ and whether or not the Bass Coast Shire Council directs its investments away from “financial institutions that fund fossil fuel developments” really a priority of the people of the Bass Coast Shire?
It must be, because of all the things that the council could be doing on our behalf (such as getting on with the Wonthaggi Recreation Reserve Master Plan, now six months late), it has just completed a comprehensive, 10-page study on the anti-coal banking proposal. At what cost? And where would such an idea even come from?
In its report to next week’s council meeting, the shire says the idea came out of a policy adopted by the council on March 19, 2014, to the effect that “council is totally opposed to exploration and mining of coal and unconventional gas within the shire”.
But the ‘Fossil Fuel Divestment Strategy’ is given legs by a crazy motion, moved by Cr Neil Rankine and amazingly supported by the whole council in December last year.
Among other and money-wasting measures it calls on the shire’s administration to develop a Fossil Fuel Divestment Strategy to be presented for adoption at the July 2016 ordinary meeting. The strategy should specifically include; strategies, actions and timelines to move Council’s investments to financial institutions that do not finance fossil fuel projects, a public reporting to Council mechanism, and review process, to minimise indirect financing of fossil fuel projects, and a reporting of Council’s investments, financial services arrangements and loans.
The strategy has not yet been adopted nor does council have a policy of opposing the mining of coal everywhere in Australia.
Such a position would be considered a radical conservation stance and should be clearly explained through public consultation before being approved.
The December 2015 motion actually called for public consultation on this issue but it was never held.
And the report which accompanied the motion back in 2014, moved by Cr Crugnale seconded by Cr Wright, makes absolutely no reference whatsoever to the question of ethical banking and whether or not to take the shire’s investments away from banks that fund fossil fuel developments as an anti-CSG measure.
In fact, such is the scale of coal mining in Australia, that it might actually be impossible to find a financial institution that’s not financing the industry in some way. Which isn’t surprising. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in February 2014, the Australian coal mining industry employed 54,900 people full time in direct employment and more than 145,000 people in related employment.
Of course, the main target of the report to council back in March 2014 was really the exploration and development of onshore gas projects locally, with the council itself stretching the point to include opposition to new coal mining ventures in the shire.
But how you get from there to asking the shire administration to develop a sophisticated strategy of divestment in banks lending to coal comapnies beggars belief.
The officer’s report, which includes research of 120 financial institutions, concludes that the strategy would likely exclude most major banks, it could expose the shire to a higher level of risk and cost it up to $44,000 annually in lost interest income, plus additional monitoring costs.
As a result, the officers “do not recommend that council divest from fossil fuel aligned financial institutions as this would have a significant adverse impact on Council’s existing investments and current returns”.
Despite that, the report leaves open the prospect that its term investments could go to firms that don’t back fossil fuel ventures.
So it seems the council could be about to put more time, more effort and more money into this hare-brained scheme.
There’s even a motion, to be put before the council next week, for it to “prioritise investments in environmentally and socially responsible financial institutions…”
Have they lost their marbles completely?
Granted, there is some concern in the community about coal seam gas being mined locally, although we’re also told there is no commercial resource in the area. But in no way does it give council a mandate for stuffing around with our money, especially in these tight times.
Our administrators must have the flexibility to act quickly when necessary to take the best interest rates and investment options available, without going through such a convoluted process, and then get on with the real business of serving the community.
If the mob sitting around the council table at the moment can’t see that, we should chuck the lot of them out at election time.