Sunday, November 08, 2020

Superannuation fund commits to net-zero emission investments after Brisbane man sues

A 25-year-old man from Brisbane has successfully sued one of Australia's biggest super funds over its handling of climate change, forcing it to commit to net-zero emissions for its investments by 2050.

It's the first time a superannuation fund has been sued for failing to consider climate change

In 2018, Mark McVeigh sued Rest, his superannuation fund, in the Federal Court after it failed to provide him with information on how it was managing the risks of climate change.

Mr McVeigh alleged Rest had breached the Superannuation Industry Act and the Corporations Act by failing to manage those risks — which could include fossil fuel companies plummeting in value or infrastructure being damaged by extreme weather.

The law requires trustees of super funds to act with care, skill and diligence to act in the best interest of members — including managing material risks to its investment portfolio.

In an 11th-hour settlement reached on Monday while the case was adjourned, Rest agreed its trustees have a duty to manage the financial risks of climate change.

Because the case was settled out of court, the outcome doesn't carry the same weight as a legal precedent decided in court. But Mr McVeigh's lawyer, David Barnden, head of Equity Generation Lawyers, said the case still sets an important precedent globally.

"This outcome should represent a significant shift in the market's willingness to tackle climate risk — a shift which should set a clear precedent for the industry in Australia, and also pension funds around the world," Mr Barnden said.

Martijn Wilder, a lawyer at Pollination, another climate-focussed law firm, said the settlement meant the impact of the case could fall short of what some were expecting. "It has not [produced] a clear legal decision by a court which clarifies the obligations and duties of directors under the law," he said.

"However, there is widespread acceptance in the legal and business community that these obligations regarding climate clearly exist."

In a statement, Rest outlined the agreement it made with Mr McVeigh, and said: "The superannuation industry is a cornerstone of the Australian economy — an economy that is exposed to the financial, physical and transition impacts associated with climate change."

An historic agreement

In the statement, Rest said that "climate change is a material, direct and current financial risk to the superannuation fund".

Rest went further and agreed to manage its investments so they would be responsible for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

It also agreed to immediately begin testing its investment strategies against various climate change scenarios, publicly disclose all its holdings and advocate for companies it invests in to comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to stop global warming at 1.5C.

The case was the first time an Australian superannuation fund had been sued for not doing enough on climate change.

Deputy PM Michael McCormack slams Adam Bandt’s comments to South Korea as ‘treacherous’

Bandt is an old Trot (Trotsky-ite) so he hates the whole of Western society. Trotsky thought even the Soviet Union was too conservative. His followers normally see themselves as "revolutionary"

They are too extreme for mainstrean politics but a few of them have infiltrated the Greens, where they are very disruptive -- pushing the Greens even furtherto the Left than even the Greens want to go. Some of them have by now been eased out but Bandt has so far survived

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has slammed Greens Leader Adam Bandt for ‘treacherous’ comments he says are against Australia’s national interest.

The Nationals have called on Greens Leader Adam Bandt to retract his comments urging South Korea to stop buying Australian coal, or resign.

During an address to South Korean MPs on Tuesday, Mr Bandt encouraged them to stop buying Australian coal and renegotiate trade agreements to include carbon tariffs.

Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said reports that Mr Bandt was urging a foreign government to act to the detriment of Australia’s national interest were “deeply concerning”.

“By urging a foreign government to agitate for a change to Australia’s domestic policies through a free-trade agreement, the Greens have attempted to undermine our democracy,” Mr McCormack said on Wednesday.

“In telling a foreign government to stop buying Australian coal, Adam Bandt is telling tens of thousands of workers in our resources industry that their jobs don’t matter.

“He is telling tens of thousands of families that they shouldn’t be able to put food on the table. He is telling small and medium-sized businesses that they should just shut up shop.”

Mr McCormack said the comments were an attack on Australian jobs and the national interest.

“Adam Bandt is Australia’s modern-day Benedict Arnold. This is treacherous behaviour,” he said.

“The Nationals urge Mr Bandt to immediately withdraw his comments and apologise to the thousands of workers who rely on Australia’s resource industry for their livelihood. If Mr Bandt does not withdraw these comments, he should resign from parliament today.”

Queensland tourism fares better with COVID-19 than all other states according to latest findings

QUEENSLAND has withstood the coronavirus tourism wipe-out better than any other state according to new research to be released on Friday.

There have been fears the virus – and Queensland’s controversial border blockades – would wipe up to $15 billion from the state’s tourism coffers, but the new findings will be a welcome ray of light for the embattled industry.

The data, from Tourism Research Australia, showed Queensland tourism expenditure was down 24 per cent in August compared to the same time last year, but other states dropped up to 96 per cent.

Queenslanders also answered the call to arms from our tourism industry, with the number of Queensland holiday-makers taking a break in their own state soaring compared to the same time last year.

According to TRA data, there was a 31 per cent increase in Queenslanders taking a trip in their own state, increasing their spending by 62 per cent for the month.

The figures also take into account the ‘Super Long Weekend’ created after the cancellation of the Ekka and other Queensland shows in August as well as the extended relocation of most AFL clubs to the Sunshine State.

Tourism and Events Queensland’s “Good to Go” campaign encouraging people to take a well-earned holiday had also just launched.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has come under frequent fire over the state’s hard line stance on borders, said the measures had allowed Queensland to return to a new normal ahead of other states.

“This is only possible because of our strong health response in Queensland,” she said. “While other states are still struggling to contain the virus, we’re rebuilding our economy.

“Coronavirus has had a huge impact on our tourism industry. “But today’s data shows we’re heading in the right direction.”

Unsurprisingly, COVID-ravaged Melbourne lost virtually all tourism revenue, while in NSW tourism expenditure was down 51 per cent.

South Australia saw a 49 per cent drop, with Tasmania (45 per cent) and WA (42) also down significantly.

Ms Palaszczuk said it was encouraging that Queenslanders had embraced the concept of exploring their own backyard in the face of international travel bans. “I asked Queenslanders to get out and explore their state. This data shows that they’ve answered the call,” she said.

“Not only are we seeing more Queenslanders out and about, they’re spending more – pumping millions of dollars into local businesses and supporting local jobs.

“Contrary to the national trend, regional Queensland had an increase of three per cent in overnight visitors in August, with total expenditure suffering significantly less than all other states and territories.

“While our tourism industry’s recovery will continue to be challenging, particularly with uncertainty around international borders, these figures show the enthusiasm Queenslanders have to explore their own state and provided much-needed support to the tourism industry.”

While parts of Queensland’s tourism industry – particularly operators in the north, have been left hanging by a thread under the weight of border blockades and other prohibitive restrictions, some regions, notably the Granite Belt and Scenic Rim, have been reporting record tourism numbers due to the huge volume of holiday-makers unable to head overseas.

“Queenslanders have heeded our ‘Good to Go’ campaign and some regions are seeing more visitors than ever before as people explore new places,” she said.

“Queensland is an internationally renowned tourism destination and we hope to convert more Queenslanders to choose holidays at home in the longer term by showcasing the broad depth of experiences on offer in the state.

“Everything from authentic Indigenous experiences, to getting up close with wildlife, connecting with nature and wide-open spaces, to experiencing Queensland’s ‘beautiful one day, perfect the next’ lifestyle, or reconnecting with friends and family at local events – there are incredible experiences on offer just a short drive or flight away.”

Banks not doing well

Banks have been hit from all directions and some have responded better than others to the litany of issues they are facing.

The National Australia Bank has dealt with the cards it has been handed a bit better than ANZ or Westpac. The Commonwealth Bank is, at this stage, the best in class but it has a different reporting period than the other three, so it's not as readily comparable.

That said it has been a horrible year for bank profits. ANZ, NAB and Westpac profits were down 42 per cent, 37 per cent and 62 per cent respectively in the 2020 financial year to September 30.

Each of them recorded levels of one-off provisions or remediation charges which are reflected in these outsized falls in profits. They did, at the very least, manage to reward shareholders with a payout of around 50 per cent of profit in the second half - the maximum currently allowed by the financial regulator.

Now they are caught in the dilemma of how to maintain or grow profits when their margins are under enormous pressure. In ultra low interest rate environments bank margins can get squeezed because the amount they pay depositors can only go so low. Already a large rump of deposits are receiving zero interest.

Under normal circumstances the response would be to make further inroads into their cost base.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has not only required banks to radically increase credit provisions, it has also added another layer to expenses, leaving them to swim against a strong cost tide.

The banks already had elevated costs in the wake of cleaning up the mess exposed during the Royal Commission. Dealing with the long tail of remediation has been expensive - it has required investment in people and systems along with compensating customers.

Westpac is additionally challenged by the need to get its compliance systems in order in the wake of actions taken by the financial crimes watchdog, AUSTRAC, relating to money laundering. These costs are over and above the $1.3 billion needed to settle this legal action.

The struggle with containing costs was evident to different degrees in all three profit reports.

Unfortunately keeping the cost base under control limits their ability to invest in more productive areas at a time when they desperately need to do so.




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