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UNSW Students Shut Down Chancellery as Ties to Fossil Fuels are Exposed

By Harry Holbrook

Photo by Shirley Hall


Students from Fossil Free UNSW shut down the Chancellery this morning to mark the release of a report highlighting the close ties between the fossil fuel industry and members of the UNSW Council.


A group of students blockaded several exits to the Chancellery building at 8:45am, forcing security to close down the building. Students from the group read aloud lines from the report, while others performed a puppet show, with members of the UNSW Council “puppeteered” by fossil fuel industry executives.


The report released today, “Exposing The Ties”, shows how key decision makers at some of the country’s leading tertiary institutions, including the UNSW, University of Newcastle and University of Queensland, are non-executive directors or former employees of fossil fuel companies including AGL, BHP and Rio Tinto, as well as the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP).


In August, Fossil Free UNSW released an open letter to Chancellor David Gonski, calling for the ties between the fossil fuel industry and the University’s governance to be made public. The letter was signed by over 700 students, staff and members of the UNSW community, however Chancellor Gonski failed to release any information.


“We were aware that ties existed between the UNSW Council and the fossil fuel industry, and are concerned about potential conflicts of interest for members of the Council,” said Elizabeth Morley, a student from Fossil Free UNSW.


“We respectfully called for Chancellor Gonski to be transparent about this, however he declined to do so.”


UNSW has received $5 million from the ACARP since 2013, and Maxine Brenner, a non-executive director of Origin Energy and Orica, sits on the University Council.


“The ‘Exposing The Ties’ report shows just how deeply connected the fossil fuel industry and UNSW are,” said Toby Walmsley, another student from Fossil Free UNSW.


“How can students and staff trust the decisions of the University, when they’re made behind closed doors and influenced by fossil fuel companies?”


Over the last four years, students in the Fossil Free Universities network have led campaigns across 18 Australian campuses urging their universities to divest from coal, oil and gas as part of the global divestment movement.


In 2016, Fossil Free UNSW occupied the Council Chambers of the University for 36 hours, after Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs repeatedly refused requests for meetings with the student and staff group.


Globally, more than 100 universities have divested from fossil fuels including Yale, Stanford, Oxford and the London School of Economics.


Overall, the divestment movement has seen more than US$5.5 trillion divested by 749 institutions in almost 80 countries.