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ICAN protesting Future Fund's nuke investments

Photo by Tim Wright of ICAN WA
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Australian Taxpayers' Nuclear Investments
By: Jonathan HOPPER

Published: 27/04/2012

Around $130 million of Australian tax payers' money is invested in foreign companies that produce, design and maintain nuclear weapons and the missiles, submarines and aircraft that can deliver them.

The money is spread across 14 companies as part of the Federal Government's $73 billion Future Fund. The Future Fund was established by the Howard government in 2006 to generate funds for the pensions of public servants, judges and politicians.

Pressure to divest the funds is being applied to the new chairman of the Future Fund, David Gonski, who took up the position on April 3.

The pressure is coming from the Australian arm of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in conjunction with community advocacy organisation GetUp!. The two organisations have produced a joint report. Greens Senator Richard Di Natale has also introduced a Private Members Bill laying out guidelines for the ethical investment of government funds.

The Head of Public Affairs at the Future Fund, Will Hetherton, admitted that: “We're definitely aware of the issue.”

However, information regarding whether the Future Fund board has made progress on the issue wasn't available. Mr Hetherton said he's: “Not in a position to say if it's been discussed.”

ICAN Australia used a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to obtain the details about the investments in May 2011. Australian ICAN campaign director Tim Wright said ICAN: “Might do some more FOI requests to see if there's been any discussion on divesting.”

Also in May 2011, the Future Fund withdrew investments in 10 companies linked to cluster bombs. Mr Wright believes the fund's board members will eventually hear ICAN's concerns and divest the money without the need for legislation.

The media adviser to Senator Di Natale, Andrew Blyberg, doesn't hold the same hopes though. Mr Blyberg explained that when ICAN's FOI was revealed, the majority of the Future Fund's board members that made the investments were still on the board. So the Bill was introduced last year because: “There'd been no movement on it by the Future Fund.”

ICAN still has one more card to play to try and encourage the divestment before relying on the lengthy legislation process. ICAN, in conjunction with GetUp!, has an online petition with nearly 14,000 e-signatures supporting divestment.

Mr Wright said ICAN will be presenting the signatures to Mr Gonski at a time they feel is appropriate. But Mr Wright also said: “People can write directly to Mr Gonski and emphasise that this is tax payers' money.”

The largest portion of the funds of nearly $100 million is invested with the US company, Honeywell International. Honeywell produces firing, arming and guidance systems for the US nuclear weapon stockpile, as well as tritium reservoirs. Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen used for boosting the explosive yield and efficiency of nuclear weapons.

More information on the investments is available in the ICAN/GetUp! joint report.