No old fossils on council

LAST week Bayswater council voted in principle to not invest with banks that are involved with the fossil fuel industry, following the lead of Vincent and many other local governments. In this week’s SPEAKER’S CORNER Bayswater Cr BRENT FLEETON, who voted against the policy, gets stuck into the “chronic hypocrisy” of those who supported it.

THE proxy war between extremist Green movements and common sense is forever gathering steam, with the latest front opening up at the Bayswater council.

After one meeting with 350 Australia, no consultation with ratepayers, and a week’s notice to councillors, the City of Bayswater changed its investment policy to effectively take a position against the fossil fuel industry.

So much for this local push for transparency and broader community inclusion in decision making.

Our formal investment policy now states the City “will seek opportunities to invest in financial institutions which do not invest in or finance the fossil fuel industry, subject to all such investments meeting the risk ratings, favourable returns and diversification limits set out in the Investment Policy.”

Seems pretty harmless, right? Why shouldn’t a local government get involved in the national energy debate and put the middle finger up to those evil fossil fuel industries?

Not a single councillor could say that reasonable steps were taken to consult with our ratepayers of this policy change. To gamble with our $75 million reserve to play environmental politics, not endorsed by (or even communicated to) those we serve, is plainly wrong.

• Cr Brent Fleeton. File photo

The City admitted the extent of consultation was a single meeting with the 350.org Perth Coordinator.

This is not consultation, this is an extreme activist group lobbying—which is totally within their rights to do so—but for the city to back them up and recommend we skip due process flies in the face of good governance.

This was more than just including an aspirational statement, this was a local council stepping out of its simple remit once again and entering the national energy debate with no facts, no research, just chasing pure ideological nonsense about how “amazing” it would be if we had 100 per cent renewable energy fuelling our country while flipping the bird to coal, oil and gas.

If we are really going to divert our limited time and attention from dealing with all our local issues and engage in this debate, let’s at least have it when we are equipped with the right information and all the facts. What we were presented with at the meeting by way of context and supporting information to make our ‘informed’ decision was embarrassing. There was no modelling on what power prices would be if we had to rely on 100 per cent renewable energy, or facts and figures on what our state would look like should we remove all fossil fuel projects from out economy. Please remember this is the aim of groups like 350 Australia; to never see another project starting again in the coal, oil or gas space.Those pushing divestment around the council table have no regard for the colossal impact on the many businesses in WA involved along the supply chain should our new stance against coal, oil and gas become reality. Talk about being divorced from reality. To those still saying “it’s just a statement, it doesn’t mean anything” so, why say it? Why include it as a formal policy? You either believe in what 350 Australia is pushing, or you don’t.

By its own admission, the target of the divestment movement is to harm reputations—not to actually change financing arrangements. Divestment seeks to ‘stigmatise’ the current foundation of these industries to delay and disrupt projects by eroding support for them.

Divestment targets companies that are conducting lawful business, complying with environmental regulation, providing jobs, investing in our communities and paying royalties and taxes.

And are we now going to reject funding from state and federal governments which we know would have come in part from royalties or taxes paid by individuals and businesses working in industries connected to fossil fuels?

Let’s not even mention the chronic hypocrisy of the notion that, as an investor, Bayswater should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that we are extensively relying on those companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day. I trust everyone who visited the council chamber that night either walked, or carpooled in a Prius.

The divestment campaign is illogical and unethical, arguing that fossil fuels are no longer necessary to provide energy for the billions who live without it. This is not true, as they remain the more affordable, versatile and widely available energy source. Restricting their use will delay energy access to the world’s poorest people with attendant adverse impacts on life expectancy health and education outcomes. I get many of my colleagues grandstand at the local council table for future political ambitions within the ranks of WA Labor or the Greens, but to extend that to interfering with the future investments of our ratepayers is just wrong and should not be encouraged—especially not by the city administration which should act removed from a particular ideology. But given so few people actually care enough to take part in the local process, these examples will keep happening.

Let’s hope come the next round of elections this October there are more people with some common sense interested in running for local council to solve local issues.

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