Westpac Greenwash and the Denniston Plateau

With the legendary Jenny Campbell QSM and the Climate Change Elephant outside Invercargill's Westpac

While the news has recently been dominated by Mandela's death, our education rankings and the latest child poverty statistics, there have been protests outside Westpac branches around the country. I spent most lunchtimes over the last week outside our Invercargill Branch.

Westpac have an interesting history, they are a highly profitable Australian owned bank, they are our Government's main banker and the IRD had to take legal action to recover almost $1 billion of avoided taxes from them. They are also one of several banks that are the subject of a class action to claw back  $1 billion of unfair default fees. In 2011 the New Zealand Westpac CEO earned $5.4 million for the year, but the current CEO is struggling on a reduced salary of $3.16 million (about 7 times the salary of our Prime Minister).

At a recent CTU conference we heard from bank workers (possibly from Westpac) that they have targets for the number of debt based packages they have to sell to customers, whether they need them or not, and risk losing their jobs if they don't meet them.

Westpac is is making huge profits, is known for avoiding tax, overpays their management, talks customers into debt that they don't need and then charges them unnecessarily. While this is bad enough, they also have a dirty secret that they hoped no one would discover...

Westpac spend a lot on PR and they have managed to win awards over the last three years for sustainability and good environmental practices. In 2012 the bank won the Sunday Star Times Canstar Cannex Social Responsibility Award. The judges were impressed by Westpac's management of "environmental impacts" and "socially responsible products". One would have thought if they were really committed to protecting the environment, and being socially responsible, that they wouldn't provide the funds to finance activities that had severe environmental impacts and contributed to climate change. They have, and it is no longer a secret.

Westpac is the principle banker for Bathurst Resources Ltd Australia that have recently won court action and ongoing battles with environmental organisations (Forest and Bird, 350.org and the Coal Action Network of Aotearoa) so it can mine the environmentally significant Denniston Plateau for coal.

Bathurst does not have the capital to set up the new mine and will have to borrow the money to do it. When the World bank and European Investment bank are scaling down support for mining coal because of its effects on our climate, we think Westpac should do the same. Providing finance to a company that intends to remove 84 million tonnes of coal from the plateau and cause the release of 218 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, is not a good look for a bank that actively promotes its environmental awareness.

Westpac has already shown its lack of respect for our tax law, our people and now our environment, obviously nothing is sacred except the ability to make money. We need support to write letters to the bank to pressure them into doing the right thing regarding the environment and to give them the opportunity to improve their diminishing credibility.


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