Caroline Le Couteur, the Greens politician with an activist investment portfolio
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Caroline Le Couteur, the Greens politician with an activist investment portfolio

New Green politician Caroline Le Couteur owns a share portfolio numbering no fewer than 29 companies, but her corporate wealth has an unexpected twist.

Ms Couteur's shareholdings include the big four banks, oil and gas company Santos, energy companies Origin and AGL, and Woolworths, which has substantial poker machine interests. Her husband owns a bunch more shares.

Caroline Le Couteur: Something is not right at the Land Development Agency.

Caroline Le Couteur: Something is not right at the Land Development Agency.Credit:Jay Cronan

Ms Le Couteur says most of her portfolio is invested through Australian Ethical Investments, which she set up some years ago.

Some shares that she would rather not have, including Woolworths, were inherited from her parents.

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Others fall into the category of shareholder activism. Ms Le Couteur buys the minimum $500 shareholding to get a seat at the annual meetings, where she can move resolutions to change the company's policies - a practice she encouraged through the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, which she set up and ran before entering the ACT parliament.

Ms Le Couteur said her shareholdings in Origin, AGL and Santos fit this category. In the case of Santos she had bought and sold shares three times for annual meetings. She had bought bank shares for the same reason, although some of her bank shares were inherited.

When her mother died in 2012, Ms Le Couteur inherited shares in Woolworths, a big pokies owner through its Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group. She also inherited holdings in Argo Investments, whose $4.7 billion portfolio includes $157 million invested in BHP Billiton, $32.9 million in Crown resorts, and $45.7 million in Woodside Petroleum.

But Ms Le Couteur said Argo's investments were "a snapshot of the Australian economy" and while she would not have chosen it, she was more immediately considering offloading her Woolworths shares.

"It's merely an inheritance that I haven't got around to getting rid of," she said. "I should put more energy into my financial life."

While she didn't anticipate conflicts of interest, she would declare her investment if any relevant issue came up, she said.

Ms Le Couteur bought Santos shares as part of a Wilderness Society campaign against fracking. Her Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility had moved resolutions at meetings of all four big banks, trying to get better disclosure on where bank money was invested. Last year, her group succeeded in forcing carbon concessions from AGL, which she said had "the dubious distinction of being Australia's largest CO2 producer".

Ms Le Couteur also has money in wind farms, including Infigen, which built the Lake George-Bungendore turbines and is expanding the array, in telecommunications, and in small companies such as Abundant Produce, which she says is developing seeds that work better in brackish water.

Her shareholdings are detailed in her register of interests, where she has also declared ownership between herself and her husband of four properties. She rents her Garran investment property out through Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services.

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Fellow Green Shane Rattenbury continues to own two investment apartments, one in Barry Morris's Mayfair building in West Row, and the other in the Astin, on the corner of Ipima St and Northbourne Avenue.

Mr Rattenbury said he would lease his properties through a not-for-profit model such as Homeground, a Melbourne real-estate agency. He was "actively working" to establish the model here but until then the apartments are rented in the normal marketplace.

Kirsten Lawson is news director at The Canberra Times

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