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Ethics of ACT government's investment probed

Greens politician Caroline Le Couteur has questioned the ACT government's investment in poker machine manufacturers and oil companies, saying its negative screening processes should be extended to exclude these companies too.

The ACT government's share portfolio consists of more than 1700 companies, and includes large poker machine manufacturers Aristocrat Leisure and Ainsworth, as well as oil and gas companies such as Cabot Oil and Gas Corp and Oil Search.

But while government officials revealed work was already under way to further divest from fossil fuel companies, Ms Le Couteur asked whether their work included a shift away from gaming machine manufacturers. 

"It's not something we've specifically looked at, we've spent a fair bit of time to get to where we've got to [with fossil fuels]," director of the ACT government's investment branch Patrick McAuliffe told a budget estimates hearing on Monday.

Ms Le Couteur later told The Canberra Times the government needed to do more to ensure taxpayer funds were being directed towards "ethical ends".

"We know gambling addiction causes real and significant pain for Canberrans and their families - and that we need to do much more to reduce gambling harm in the ACT," Ms Le Couteur said.

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"As a start, the government should consider extending these 'negative screening processes' to gambling companies."

The government's responsible investment strategy already bars it from investing in tobacco, cluster munitions and landmines.

The territory divested nearly half of its interests in major fossil fuel companies in 2015 after lobbying from 350.org. Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr was a part of that push before she entered parliament.

Executive director of  ACT Treasury's Economic and Financial Group Karen Doran said the territory's robust investment portfolio was managed "passively" through two custom indexes set up to weed out companies that didn't fit with their strategy.

The government paid proxy voting advisor ISS about $60,000 per year to manage their shareholder obligations under its sustainability framework, Mr McAuliffe said.

Before Ms Le Couteur entered the ACT parliament, she was a shareholder activist, one who uses their equity in a corporation to exert pressure on its management to behave ethically. 

Her holdings include the big four banks, oil and gas company Santos and energy companies Origin and AGL.

Ms Le Couteur also inherited shares in Woolworths from her mother, a somewhat controversial entry in the Greens' politician's portfolio given thier substantial poker machine interests. 

However she has since sold those shares, a spokeswoman confirmed.