Most of Australia’s major super funds continue to hold investments in nuclear weapons companies, almost a year after the UN Treaty on nuclear weapon prohibition came into effect.
According to new analysis from the Australia Institute and nuclear weapons prevention non-profit, Quit Nukes, 17 of Australia’s major super funds currently have holdings in nuclear weapons companies.
The funds that do, the analysis found, make opaque attempts — if any at all — to disclose the investments to current and potential members, and in some cases go to great lengths to conceal them.
Australian Super, the nation’s largest super fund both by membership and funds under management, has close to $1.5 billion in nuclear weapons companies.
The fund’s investment policy says Australian Super does not exclude nuclear weapons (or other controversial weapons technology) from its investment pot.
For members with a higher conscience, Australian Super offers a “Socially Aware” membership, but even then, that only excludes landmines and cluster munitions.
Moving through the list, the case was the same in most other corners across the market. Aware Super, Australia’s second largest fund, says that it excludes controversial weapons, but that definition doesn’t cover nuclear weapons.
Aware invests in 12 nuclear weapons companies.
HESTA, meanwhile, only excludes investment in companies which earn more than 5% of their total revenue from nuclear weapons across the whole portfolio, but still has exposure to 14 nuclear weapons companies.
Over at Hostplus, nuclear weapons aren’t classified as controversial weapons either, and therefore aren’t excluded from the fund’s investment prospects.
But the fund says that it plans to recategorise nuclear weapons come January next year, at which point it’ll have to find a way to divest from eight nuclear weapons companies.
It is a popular strategy at most of the market’s major players, where controversial weapons are excluded from investment, but nuclear weapons aren’t considered controversial.
Among them are Rest Super, Telstra Super, and Mercer Super. At Cbus “controversial weapons” are explicitly excluded from fund investment opportunities, but there’s no mention of nuclear weapons. The fund has exposure to six nuclear weapons companies.
A survey undertaken by Quit Nukes found that just under 70% of Australians would expect nuclear weapons to be considered “controversial weapons”, while that same proportion of Australians, when asked, said they’d prefer their super not be invested in nuclear weapons.
Margaret Beavis, co-director at Quit Nukes, said Australia’s $3.4 trillion pension industry has phenomenal power, and their abstinence could go a long way in eliminating nuclear weapons, which are now illegal under international law.
“While there is big money invested in nuclear weapons companies, these investments are usually a tiny percentage of the whole funds under management,” Dr Beavis said.
“There is no evidence to suggest that divestment will negatively impact returns. Some funds are making change, including Hostplus, which recently decided to divest all nuclear weapons holdings by the end of January 2022,” she said.
Bill Browne, a senior researcher at The Australia Institute’s Democracy and Accountability Program, said it’s clear that Australians don’t want their money “invested in weapons of mass destruction”, and that super funds should heed the warning.
“Australians have the right to know exactly how their money is being invested, but most major super funds do not tell their members about their investments,” Browne said.
“Superannuation is one of the great Australian projects, guaranteeing retirement income for millions of workers. Most Australians would have no idea that their retirement money is being used to finance nuclear weapons,” he said.
“It is incumbent upon all funds to invest in the future of Australians — and that future does not include nuclear weapons.”
Some smaller, emerging funds have already pulled the rug on nuclear investments completely. The only six funds that that have either fully divested, or weren’t exposed to nuclear in weapons in the first place are: Active Super, Australian Ethical, Christian Super, Crescent Wealth, Future Super, and Verve Super.