Speech: Ethical Investment (Crown Financial institutions) Bill

Thursday 5 August 2010, 8:11AM
By Hone Harawira

Ethical Investment (Crown Financial Institutions) Bill.
Hone Harawira, Maori Party Member of Parliament, Te Tai Tokerau
Wednesday 4 August 2010

Amazing how what goes around comes around, and in this case how some seriously dodgy investments made by the Crown Financial Institutes under a Labour government, and vigorously defended by them when challenged, are now coming under fire from surprise, surprise – Labour – now that they’re in opposition.

It was only a few years back that the Labour government provoked a frenzy of condemnation from the press gallery and political pundits alike when it was revealed that the Superannuation Fund was linked to companies which invest in cluster munitions and nuclear weapons production.

The Superannuation Fund is just one of New Zealand Government’s five Crown Financial Institutes; the others being the Government Superannuation Fund, the Earthquake Commission, the Accident Compensation Corporation, and the National Provident Fund – all of which have that nice solid ring of sound, conservative, socially responsible investments – but apparently not …

The Superannuation Fund is run by a Crown entity called the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation who have held investments in - whaling; anti-personnel landmines, the tobacco industry and cluster munitions for God’s sake!!!

To their credit though, the Guardians dumped their tobacco stocks back in 2007 based on a set of guidelines that gave priority to environmental, social, and governance issues against relevant international conventions, NZ law, and Crown actions.

And indeed the Maori Party agrees wholeheartedly with the proposal of this Bill that ALL five Crown financial institutes sign up to a commitment on ethical investment based on socially responsible and environmentally sustainable development.

And Guardians’ decision to dump its tobacco investment, explains perfectly why we support this bill so strongly.

Now everyone knows that the Maori Party has been the key driver behind setting up the Maori Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into the Tobacco Industry.

Tobacco is directly responsible for the deaths of some 5,000 New Zealanders every year, more than 600 of whom are Maori; and responsible for billions upon billions of dollars of indirect costs to this country every single year through health costs and the loss of productivity.

Well - a few weeks back, thanks to the support of ASH, we had the honour of having Dr Jeffrey Wigand come before our Inquiry.

Dr Wigand as people will know was played by our Academy Award winner Russell Crowe in a memorable movie called The Insider – a story about Dr Wigand’s time working within the Tobacco Industry and becoming a key witness against the industry in multi-billion dollar court cases all across the United States of America.

Anyway, Dr Wigand told us heaps of stuff, including:
§ how the tobacco industry had solid data on which to base it’s cigarette sales to different ethnic groups;
§ how the tobacco industry’s lawyers rewrote company reports to make cigarettes look safe;
§ how flavouring was added to make cigarettes taste nice;
§ how chemicals were added to make the nicotine addiction work faster; and
§ how tobacco companies specifically targetted young people to replace older consumers who had died off from tobacco diseases.

And that’s what I mean when I say the Tobacco Industry is an example of the kinds of UN-ethical investment we are all well rid of.

Mark Peck, a former Labour MP who was never able to get any real action on stopping tobacco, but has gone on to become the Director of the Smokefree Coalition, said something I really agree with:

“There is nothing good about the tobacco industry. It has lied about the harm its product causes to smokers, lied about the addictiveness of tobacco products, and lied about the harm caused by second-hand smoke. Because of these lies, millions of people have died”.

The Maori Party welcomes this new resolve from Labour to set some benchmarks in making it morally untenable for taxpayer funds to be invested in projects which are neither socially responsible nor environmentally sustainable, and accordingly we are happy to support this bill.