FFMU Prepares to Flood the Campus14 April 2016
A 350.org campaign entitled “Flood The Campus” has given the University of Melbourne – and six other major Australian universities – a deadline of 15 April to commit to cease investing in the fossil fuel industry. The campaign, which is working in conjunction with Fossil Free groups at these seven universities, pledges to take “bold action” if universities fail to respond in time.
The setting of a 15 April deadline was prompted by a lack of action on the universities’ part to respond to years of student-led activism on the subject of divestment.
“They’ve ignored us. They’ve tried to distract us with so-called consultation. We’ve been patient, but we’re running out of time if we want a healthy world where we can actually use our degrees,” reads a statement on the Flood The Campus website.
Indeed, there has been a growing number of efforts to encourage the University of Melbourne to divest, particularly since the creation of Fossil Free Melbourne University (FFMU) three years ago. In 2015, over 4,000 people signed a petition which was then given to the University on the National Day of Action. The University also received a number of letters – one signed by over a hundred academics, another by over two hundred members of the University’s medical community. Perhaps most notably, FFMU held a referendum in which 97 per cent of the votes were in favour of divestment.
Nevertheless, the University has continued to invest in fossil fuels. The University itself has been, at times, resistant to the ongoing divestment campaign. In 2014, for instance, FFMU made a Freedom of Information request to inquire about the University’s investments. The University’s response was to charge the group $350 to “follow through.”
That same year on 29 March, Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis published a statement in The Australian in response to FFMU and 350.org’s efforts. He established that the University’s investment portfolio was not managed by the University itself, but rather by “external industry experts.” To customise its own portfolio and exclude fossil fuel companies, Davis argued, would lead to “higher management costs, and likely lower returns” for the University.
At present, it appears that the situation has remained very much the same.
“As of today, communication from their side is still very limited, blocking any possible discussion around divestment,” says a representative from FFMU.
“[…] There are always more obstacles laid by the University, more recently stalling conversations, decision making, and being secretive than directly saying ‘no’ to divestment.”
On 18 March – almost two years since its initial refusal to divest – the University published its new Sustainability Charter. Glaringly absent, however, was a specific commitment to divest from fossil fuels, only promising that it will invest in a manner “consistent with the University’s commitment to sustainability” but also with “its financial and legal responsibilities.”
As the countdown to 15 April continues, Flood The Campus and Fossil Free groups are gearing up to take the “bold action” they have promised. What is meant by “bold action” is strategically being kept under wraps.
“We can’t say much about the bold action, but it is intended to make the issue impossible to ignore for the decision makers,” says FFMU.
Ray Yoshida, Campus Divestment Coordinator for 350.org, was also unable to provide specific details, but did write via e-mail:
“What I can say, however, is that students are playing an active part in a broader trend of citizens taking peaceful civil disobedience against fossil fuel companies and the governments that support them […] Regardless of what universities decide to do during Flood the Campus, Fossil Free groups will use this moment to grow their campaign, increase the number of people committed to taking action, and build the power we need to win.”
Photograph taken by Imogen Martin.