Traditional owners in NSW and the Northern Territory have made human rights complaints against Australia’s top superannuation companies over investments in gas producer Santos.
The complainants say 20 funds, including AustralianSuper, REST Super and Hostplus, have failed to prevent harmful human rights impacts by investing members’ money in Santos’ “polluting” Barossa and Narrabri gas projects.
Antonia Burke, Tiwi Island Malawu clan member and Indigenous human rights advocate, said Santos was “reckless” and had left “a trail of destruction across this entire country”.
“Their projects are unsafe for the environment, Indigenous traditional owners and residents, the people that work for them and landowners,” she said on Wednesday.
Indigenous groups from the Tiwi Islands, Larrakia country near Darwin and the Gomeroi/Gamilaraay Pilliga Forests in northern NSW claim Santos’ projects threaten their spiritual and cultural lives.
They said sacred sites and the environment are at risk from potential pipeline eruptions and toxic spills that could impact groundwater and wildlife, including threatened marsupials, endangered birds, dugong, turtles and other sea animals.
Some superannuation fund members have also made complaints to their respective companies about alleged human rights obligation failures.
Jan McNicol, a UniSuper member, said the investments were “morally reprehensible” and ignored Indigenous peoples’ rights.
“This is not the investment policy of a socially responsible twenty-first century superannuation fund,” she said.
“I implore UniSuper to take its investments out of fossil fuels in general, to save our money and the planet.”
Equip Super member Neil Barber said it was unacceptable for his fund to invest in the Barossa and Narrabri gas projects.
“Equip prides itself with being named by SuperRatings as a top performer, an accolade that is hollow when investing in companies that are top performers in the demise of human existence,” he said.
The complainants want the funds to dump their Santos investments or ensure the company upholds its human rights obligations.
“Traditional owners and members are asking funds to justify their investment in Santos and disclose how they are complying with human rights standards,” said Vidhya Karnamadakala, a lawyer representing the Indigenous groups and superannuation members.
Santos-operated Barossa Gas Project, worth $3.6 billion, is an offshore gas and condensate production project northwest of Darwin that will supply an onshore liquefied natural gas facility via a 385km undersea pipeline, with first gas targeted for 2025.
The Narrabri Gas Project, also worth $3.6 billion, is an onshore coal seam gas project that could provide up to half of NSW’s gas needs once operational. It has received commonwealth environmental and National Native Title Tribunal approvals.