By JULIUS DENNIS
Greens backed candidate Emily Webster wants the Town Council to “look at divesting its money from institutions that support fossil fuel extraction” something that has precedent in local government areas across the country as well as by large institutions such as La Trobe University.
However, the council already has a policy for how it invests its money, one that sounds an awful lot like what Ms Webster is talking about.
The 282 word Alice Springs Town Council Elected Member Policy – Environmentally and Socially Responsible Investments is unambiguous and wide ranging.
A section of it says: “Council prefers investment securities and financial institutions that meet certain socially responsible investments criteria. Socially responsible investing (SRI), also known as sustainable, socially conscious, ‘green’ or ethical investing, is any investment strategy which seeks to consider both financial return and social / environmental good to bring about a positive change.
“Whereas SRI is preferred, it may not necessarily be appropriate in all cases.”
The policy names resource efficiency (especially water and energy), renewable energy, production of environmentally friendly products, recycling, and waste and emissions reduction as “environmentally productive activities”.
When pushed on the subject, Ms Webster says that she is “aware of Council’s ethical investment policy [and] while this is a good starting point, it is not the same as a divestment policy.
“This Council policy establishes SRI as a preference, not something that is mandated. This does not ensure Council funds are not invested in companies that engage in fossil fuel extraction.”
In her initial interview with the Alice Springs News Ms Webster did not acknowledge that the council already had an investment policy.
When challenged she made no assertion that the council’s actions were in conflict with its policy.
She says: “Divestment means that all Council money (bank accounts, investment portfolios etc) are kept only with institutions that do not support, lend to, or invest in companies that extract fossil fuels.”
In fact the policy specifically mentions “environmentally harmful activities are considered to be … production of pollutants, toxins and greenhouse gases (coal, oil and gas) … nuclear power; and uranium mining”.
Ms Webster (pictured) says: “The idea is that this puts pressure on these companies to abandon these activities, and invest in renewable energy.”
Outside of financial moves, the second tactic the candidate suggests is adapting the environment in town to ensure it is suited to a warming climate. Heat mitigation has long been a subject in the Centre, but not one that council has acted proactively on. Ms Webster says it is something “really concerns” her, as well as many of the people she has been speaking to.
“We can look at strategies for providing places in our CBD and in our suburbs where people can escape our increasingly hot summers.
“So, many more places that are air conditioned and much more shade.
“People need somewhere to be out of the heat during the day, and really all we’ve got is some shopping centres and the library.”
Ms Webster, who initially moved to Alice Springs to work as a lawyer but is now a teacher at the Centralian Middle School, comes into this election as the relatively newly minted convener of the NT Greens. She says that this is “absolutely” a turning point for the party in terms of their activity between the state and federal elections across the Territory:
“We’re really keen on increasing our membership and increasing our presence, not just in Alice Springs.
“To say that we are here and we want to be a part of Territory politics. That we are really the only party option if you want to see solid action on climate change.”
The party has three candidates running in council elections across the Territory, including Dianne Stokes who is running in the Barkly.
Ms Webster is the only candidate that is running on a party ticket in the Alice Springs election, but she says that she would rather be transparent about where he political leanings lie:
“At local council elections, people often don’t run with a party but I think we know that there’s plenty of candidates in this election, and plenty of current councillors who are party aligned.
“It’s important to me, and it’s important to the Greens, to be transparent.”
Ms Webster says that her experience on committees around the Centre, including at ALEC, Watch This Space and at the NT Working Women’s Centre, give her “transferable skills” that would be helpful on council.
That said, it is her work at the middle school that inspires this run at public life:
“The kids I teach are fourteen and fifteen years old. They know what’s happening in the world: they’re very aware of the impacts of climate change, and a lot of them really struggle to see a prosperous future because they know the writing’s on the wall.
“So I definitely draw from them in terms of what I think we as adults should be doing.”
Ms Webster says that if elected she is “not interested in being on council to create a progressive block.
“For council to operate effectively, there needs to be nine people in the room who are willing to work together, and willing to put the needs of Alice Springs first and foremost,” she says.
Ms Webster will be preferencing Kim Hopper in the number two slot, followed by Catherine Satour and Jimmy Cocking on her how-to-vote card.
PHOTO at top: Plaza shopping mall a good place on a hot day – but there should be more.