On Saturday, 26 October 2013, a groundbreaking event happened for the fossil fuel divestment campaign in Australia. Nearly 30 ANZ customers collectively walked in to the Bourke Street Mall branch of the bank and closed their accounts in protest over ANZ’s financing of the coal and gas industries.
Customers had been warning that if ANZ – already Australia’s biggest lender to dirty coal and gas exports – continued to fund the fossil fuel industry, they would take their money elsewhere. ANZ kept on supporting fossil fuels and this was the first sign that the customers would make good on their word. After symbolically cutting up their cards, the customers lined up and, one by one, closed their accounts, handing over a letter to make sure ANZ knew exactly why they were leaving.
On the day, about $2 million in savings and other financial products was shifted out of ANZ. But the real value of the day was the powerful message sent to the bank that if they keep choosing fossil fuels, their customers will choose another bank.
Since the start of $2008, the big four banks (ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac) have invested about $6.5 billion in coal and gas export projects along Australia’s East Coast – many of them inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This year, hundreds of customers of the big four banks have put their bank on notice, warning that unless loans to coal and gas projects stop, they’ll move to another bank.