Future Fund's tobacco investments face chop
The taxpayer-owned Future Fund has put its $219 million in tobacco investments under review, and will consider the case for ditching the controversial holdings.
The $80 billion fund amassed its stake in big tobacco at the same time Labor was introducing its plain packaging laws, sparking criticism from health advocates and some members of the government.
But the fund's managing director, Mark Burgess, today said the fund's governance committee was considering the investment in cigarette manufacturers after a request from the board.
“This work has been started, and will include consideration of the costs and implications of exclusion as well as the board's ability to...and responsibilities and obligations to act in this area,” Mr Burgess said.
"It's early days in that process, but the committee will provide its findings to the board and the board will make a determination and this will be communicated publicly at the appropriate time."
The Future Fund, a nest egg for future pension liabilities of public servants, holds a range of tobacco stocks including British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Lorillard, which owns the Kent and Old Gold brands.
Until now, it has defended the investments by saying they do not breach any Australian or international laws.
Finance Minister Penny Wong has also refused to intervene, saying the fund's investment decisions must remain independent from government.
In recent months its board, chaired by David Gonski, has faced intense pressure from health groups to reconsider the investments. Some overseas sovereign wealth funds have excluded themselves from tobacco, and the Future Fund previously sold its shares in defence companies that were involved in making cluster bombs.
Mr Burgess denied the decision to review the tobacco investments was influenced by public pressure or a letter from Attorney General Nicola Roxon, who as health minister last year wrote to the fund requesting it no longer invest in tobacco.
"We're not responding to any particular issue or environment. It's simply the board sub-committee and the board itself believe that this has come up in the normal course of review," he said.
Mr Burgess did not say when the review would report its findings into the tobacco investments, which were worth $219 million at the end of September.