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Koutsantonis says university in "dark ages"

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State Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis has joined condemnation of the Australian National University after it decided to divest shareholdings in seven resources companies including Santos.

Koutsantonis, who is also the mining minister, said today the decision was “humiliating” for a research university and represented a “return to the dark ages”.

The Canberra-based university announced early this month that it would divest shareholdings in Iluka Resources, Independence Group, Newcrest Mining, Sandfire Resources, Oil Search, Santos and Sirius Resources.

The decision, criticised by Premier Jay Weatherill and the Federal Government, came after the university commissioned a review of its investments as part of its “Socially Responsible Investment Policy”.

READ MORE: Outrage at ANU divestment shows the power of its idea.

Koutsantonis today upped criticism of the decision, telling the Asia Pacific Oil and Gas Conference at the Convention Centre that the State Government would stand by the oil and gas industry.

“We will stand up against an extremist ‘lock the gate’ agenda that seeks to instil fear across the community about your industry,” he said.

“And we will not stand idly by as those that seek a return to the dark ages are able to go unchallenged.”

He used the ANU’s divestment decision has an example of this.

“The ANU prides itself on being a celebrated place of intensive research, so to base this decision on nothing more than a symbolic, box-ticking exercise, is humiliating for an institution of this kind.”

Koutsantonis said the State Government called on the ANU to reverse it decision and provide an explanation to the blacklisted companies.

“The State Government will always base its resources policy on science and facts, rather than emotion and scaremongering.”

Defending the decision, ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young told the ABC: “For a university like ours, which is, for instance, a major researcher in environment and alternative energy, we need to be able to put our hand on our heart when we talk to our students and to our alumni and to our researchers and be able to say that we’re confident that the sort of companies that we’re investing in are consistent with the broad themes that drive this university.”

Young said the university had been criticised by the environmental lobby for not going far enough.

“I think we’ve actually taken a measured and responsible way – the middle ground in a sense,” he told the ABC’s Lateline.

He also sought to explain the decision in relation to Santos.

“A company like Santos, for instance, is essentially an oil and gas producer, and so, it may in fact be a very responsible company in terms of a whole range of things that it does, and I’m sure it is. But because it is primarily an oil and gas-producing company, then it will perform poorly on the environmental criteria because it’s a major source of Co2 emissions, which, as we all know, has a significant impact on climate.”

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