18 December 2013
Fossil fuels were top of the agenda at ANZ’s annual general meeting today, to the point where Chairman John Morschel shut down shareholders trying to raise concerns over environmental, reputation and economic risks resulting from ANZ’s investments in the dirty coal and gas industries.
The scene had been set right from the beginning. As shareholders and staff arrived at the meeting they were met by a sea of faces of former customers. Posters of over sixty ANZ customers who had recently left the bank in protest over its lending to the dirty coal and gas industries made the point that ANZ’s customer base is at risk if it keeps supporting fossil fuels. Among the activists and shareholders were traditional owners of the Gomeroi nation, whose land is set to be destroyed if the ANZ-funded Maules Creek coal mine gets built. Two days ago the mine site was blockaded by over 100 activists.
Meanwhile in Melbourne, carolers went to the ANZ head office to wish the bank a merry coal free Christmas, distributing copies of what we regard as a much more suitable annual report. A banner featured the quote from NASA climate scientist James Hansen:
Kicking Australia’s coal habit is the greatest gift Australians could give to everybody’s children, future generations and other life on our planet.
Back in Brisbane, and inside the meeting itself, it was clear that Chairman John Morschel was in for a long morning. Questions from shareholders rained in about ANZ’s risk exposure to fossil fuels, their investment in potentially stranded assets such as the Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal and Galilee Basin mines, the damage caused to the environment and climate by expanding the fossil fuel industry, and the poor global outlook for coal. The Chairman was clearly flustered and refused to take further questions on coal, climate change, environment, human rights and resources! Possibly the low point – and definitely the most shameful – was when he shut down a Gomeroi traditional owner who had travelled 700 kilometres to attend the meeting and implore the bank to stop funding the destruction of her land.
This is how it happened:
The Chairman also seemed to know who we were, preventing Market Forces’ Lead Campaigner Julien Vincent from asking his question, which promoted this warning:
ANZ are clearly banking on the wrong side of history, and today’s meeting was a frightening spectacle as the bank’s board casually batted away and then refused questions that relate to specific risks to the environment and even shareholder capital created from their coal and gas investments. As Australia’s biggest lender to fossil fuels it was already clear that the bank had developed a taste for supporting environmentally destructive coal and gas projects. But the impression of today was of a bank with its head in the sand, unaware of the massive changes that need to and are taking place globally to move to a low carbon economy.