CENTRAL Victorian climate campaigners are demanding superannuation fund HESTA divest from a host of fossil fuel companies or watch them escalate their campaign for change.
Ten social workers - many of whom live in the region - are threatening to roll over their super later this month and say more could follow suit in the new year if HESTA refuses to end its involvement with companies expanding fossil fuel footprints.
It comes as super funds grapple with whether to use their financial clout to try and spark change from within
HESTA argues its current approach allows the fund to help "change business practices that will contribute to real world outcomes".
But central Victorian environmental advocate Bernard Tonkin is skeptical of those claims.
"They are greenwashing members by offering them a 'sustainable option', but saving the climate is not an option," he said.
Mr Tonkin pointed to HESTA's continued financial stake in Woodside Petroleum to suggest the fund was propping up companies that are expanding their fossil fuel footprint.
Woodside has plans for a Western Australian offshore drilling project that could be responsible for the equivalent of running 15 coal fired power stations for 30 years, by some estimates.
Mr Tonkin was among community sector workers threatening to over super after six months of campaigning for HESTA to change.
The so-called "HESTA 10" includes social workers from hospitals, disability support, family violence support and other roles.
Mr Tonkin said HESTA's approach to fossil fuel companies was inconsistent with the values of social workers.
"Women and children, the poor, Indigenous people, rural and regional people, they are on the front line of climate change impacts," he said.
"So it does not make sense that community sector workers standing for social justice values to have their money drive people further into disadvantage."
HESTA argues that it takes changing fossil fuel company practices seriously, but divesting is not as effective a solution to climate change as some might assume.
"Climate-related risks exist across the whole economy and cannot be effectively addressed by simply divesting from high emitting companies," it said in a statement.
"By selling shares in companies, HESTA doesn't remove or reduce carbon from the atmosphere and would lose any influence it may have as a shareholder, including voting rights."
HESTA is currently working towards a net zero investment portfolio by 2050, including a 33 per cent reduction by 2030, and that its total fossil fuel exposure declined between the ends of the latest financial years.
"We believe our approach to climate change can more effectively support a timely, just and ordered transition to a less carbon-intensive future that we all want," the company said.
"We understand there are a broad range of views among our 900,000 members on a variety of issues."
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