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Students dig into 'fossils'

Date

Emma Macdonald

Students at the ANU are demanding transparency over the university's investment in fossil fuels.

Students at the ANU are demanding transparency over the university's investment in fossil fuels. Photo: Louie Douvis

Students at the Australian National University are challenging management's decision to keep secret details of its investment in coal, oil and gas.

Tom Swann, a student in the Master of Climate Change program at the ANU and spokesman for the group Fossil Free ANU, said the ANU could be a national leader in going fossil-free, having just last month divested itself of $1 million worth of shares in Metgasco, a controversial coal seam gas miner.

But attempts by students to reveal further fossil-fuel investments had been stymied by management's refusal to divulge details of its share portfolio or council discussions on coal, oil or gas company investments.

Fossil Free ANU submitted a freedom of information request but has been refused access to 54 documents relating to its line of questioning.

Mr Swann said students were now seeking a review of the ANU's response - challenging management's claim there was ''no public interest'' in releasing the documents.

''Clearly, there is a public interest in public access to information about how public institutions are investing money,'' he said. ''ANU should have learnt this from its experience with Metgasco, when delaying on its commitment to divest for 18 months led to reputational damage and financial losses.''

ANU's vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young agreed to sell the university's nearly 1 per cent stake in the company in 2011 following a concerted campaign by Fossil Free ANU to link the company to the practice of fracking, but it is believed the sale just went through last month when share prices had already fallen dramatically on the 2011 listing price.

A national campaign to pressure all Australian universities to reveal their investments, research and partnerships with the fossil fuel industry is under way through the Australian Student Environment Network.

Mr Swann said Professor Young should take leadership in making the ANU an example of environmentally sound investment.

''He likes to promote the ANU as a leader in environmental research and promotes how green the campus is, but he won't be open about the ANU investing millions of dollars into fossil fuel producers.''

The ANU refused to comment on the FOI request other than to say: ''The ANU maintains an investment portfolio which includes a broad range of major Australian companies. The university is responding to an FOI request concerning its investment portfolio. This request is being handled by the university consistent with the relevant legislation.''

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