Tuesday, 22 January 2013

So why is the Australian National University aiding and abetting a mining company intent on destroying NSW Northern Rivers communities?

According to the Australian National University (ANU) in the ACT this is its financial situation:
ANU is unusual in Australia in that it has a large investment portfolio for the size of the University budget. Annual University revenue is $0.9B, while funds in investments total $1.1B. This investment portfolio serves a number of purposes:
  • Provides revenue to support the ANU liability to current and former staff covered by the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme (CSS) – approx. $450M
  • Invests the funds within the Endowment for Excellence which funds some staff salaries, scholarships etc.
  • Invests the cash reserves of the University, whether held centrally or by Colleges
National and international issues mean that investment returns have declined in recent years and the expectations are that markets may have now entered a period where investment returns may be below 5 per cent for an extended period. This decline in investment income will have a significant impact on the University budget. The 2012 budget indicates investment returns will be $30M less than in 2011. Within this, the total funds required to support CSS pensions will be $10M more than the return on the CSS investment sum. This is a shortfall which must be met from other University funding sources.

So how is this university tackling its falling investment income?

Well, it is apparently not doing what it implied to faculty, students, media and the general public in 2011 - totally divesting itself of coal seam gas industry shares.

Woroni, the ANU student newspaper:

The Canberra Times:

The ANU's vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young announced the sell-off of about $1million worth of Metgasco shares in a statement to the ANU Students Association this week. But he's played down the role of student protests in forcing the move, telling The Canberra Times it was ''a pragmatic decision'' based on the worth of the shares.
''We've had those shares since 2001,'' Professor Young said.
''They represent less than 0.1 per cent of our total investment portfolio.''

Because according to Metgasco's own documents as of 21 September 2012 ANU was the 17th largest shareholder in this coal seam gas exploration and production company with 2.5 million shares remaining of the 4.2  million shares it held in 2011.

The university's excuse in August last year for this state of affairs - “there are no/few buyers” for these shares. 

This excuse seems laboured. Even though share volume traded is often sluggish, by the end of September 2012 a good stockbroker should have been able to offload ANU's remaining shares.

It would appear that it is determined to retain its investment in Metgasco in spite of the fact that this mining company's first-stage plan for the Northern Rivers is to establish an estimated 1,000 gas production wells.

Turning the rural landscape into a version of this:
Section of a gas field in Tara, Queensland
ANU faculty, students and alumni need to confront the fact that they are enabling a mining company to proceed with its commercial objectives despite the fact that the affected Northern Rivers communities have clearly not granted it a social licence to do so.

This is the current membership of the University Council and I would suggest to Northern Rivers communities that these individuals need to justify the continuing inclusion of Metgasco Limited in the university's investment portfolio:

Professor the Honourable Gareth Evans AC QC - Chancellor

Professor Ian Robert Young AO - Vice-Chancellor

Ms Ilana Atlas - Pro-Chancellor  

Dr Doug McTaggart

Dr Vince FitzGerald

Ms Robin Hughes AO

Ms Martine Letts

Mr David Miles AM

Mr Graeme Samuel AC

Professor Andrew MacIntyre

Professor John Close

Professor Tim Senden

Mr Matthew King

Ms Aleksandra Sladojevic

Ms Julie Melrose
Their contact details are here.

* An email was sent to the Australian National University Chancellor seeking further confirmation of the Metgasco share parcel. No reply has been received.

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