How Managed Is The Conversation On #UniSuper?

Bernard Mees, a member of the Consultative Committee of UniSuper, recently published an article in The Conversation.

Here are two comments on that article:

Jasmina Brankovich

We are still waiting for UniSuper to declare its divestment from Transfield permanent, and to follow up on its investments with Serco (the company running all onshore detention centres and Christmas Island IDC), and Decmil (the company that was contracted by the government to build ‘post-detention’ transit centre at East Lorengau, Manus Island, and is one of the key beneficiaries in the detention industrial complex).

Some here may be interested that Transfield has been contracted by the University of Newcastle as its new facilities manager, to the tune of $88m. And the University of Wollongong has signed an MOU with the Orwellian-named Australian Border Force to provide training in ‘maritime security’ to its staff.

Angela Mitropoulos

Bernard Mees is correct to say that the distinction some commentators are drawing between “fiduciary duty” and “ethical investment” flounders on the issue of “poor reputation.”

Indeed, it is one of the strengths of the campaign to not have presupposed that distinction. Of which there is more discussion here:

And here.

That said, there are four aspects of Mees’ article that are concerning.

Firstly, the importance of HESTA’s divestment from Transfield Services lies in the fact that HESTA was a major instititional shareholder in Transfield Services. Hence the focus on its divesting from Transfield in particular.

As a member of UniSuper’s Consultative Committee, Mees suggests that UniSuper had “rather more quietly decided to divest its holdings [in Transfield Services] months ago.” That announcement was so quiet that it implied UniSuper had no investments in Transfield ‘at present,’ but neglected to inform members as to whether that was a matter of policy and, if so, to give assurances that investments would not resume tomorrow. Members are still waiting on a clear statement from UniSuper itself.

Secondly, UniSuper did inform members that it held stakes in Serco, Decmil and other companies involved in the detention system. If UniSuper has a policy to divest from detention, then surely it would apply in these cases. If it does not, then why not?

Thirdly, the issue of divestment is not reducible to a debate over industry funds.

While conservative critics have indeed attempted to make it so, that does not mean that the rest of us should proceed as it it were true and rally to the defense of industry funds. Whether industry funds are a form of “pension fund socialism” or simply an instrument of “pension fund capitalism” is a debate worth having. It should not be assumed that those who have argued for divestment from the mandatory detention industry are of the former view.

Which brings me to my final point: understanding HESTA’s divestment through the prism of a debate over industry funds is not simply reductive, but tacitly effaces the point of divestment. It does so by reaffirming the border that the divestment campaign disrupts.

Just as understanding the boycott of the Sydney Biennale through the lens of arts sponsorship deflected attention from the issue over why that boycott occurred, here too there is a sense in which the issue becomes redirected to talking about a conflict between two groups of citizens.

In this effort of redirection and resulting myopia, the very reason why these campaigns have occurred and why they have been effective is lost in reconfiguring the border around who is having this ‘conversation’ and what the conversation is about.

How Managed Is The Conversation On #UniSuper?

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