Working together for koalas
I am the person who has been engaging with Lendlease about koalas. I have been vegan for over a decade because I love animals. I changed jobs so that I could work on animal protection. Almost every major decision I have made in my life has been for animals. I even refused to marry my husband unless he agreed to a completely vegan wedding.
In other words, love for animals is one of my core values. Which is why I want to set the record straight on what I’ve been doing on behalf of all animal lovers to protect this critical colony of koalas at Mt Gilead.
Let me start by assuring you that our decision to stay invested or to walk away from Lendlease has been and will always be based on what is best for koalas. I completely understand that for those people who are as passionate as I am about saving koalas from extinction, it may seem to make no sense to hear that staying invested in Lendlease is what is best for koalas.
But the reality is that if we walk away from Lendlease right now, financially that will have no impact at all on this development. It would still go ahead. There’s also the very real chance that if we divest now, Lendlease will have no reason to talk to us and listen to us anymore. And that means one less voice for the koalas directly at the table.
That's not to say divestment is not an option. Divestment must always be an option.
We've told Lendlease we will divest if they don't protect this koala colony (and indeed any vulnerable species). But divestment is one of many tools we can use to influence change, and as a tool its effect is indirect and not immediate. So, for divestment to achieve more than just moral satisfaction, we must be very strategic about how we use it.
I’ve been personally engaging with Lendlease on this issue since 2018. And while progress has been slow at times, I’ve seen encouraging results from my engagement. For example, in early 2021 I attended a site visit with Lendlease and two NGOs, where we challenged Lendlease on the impacts of the land clearing required for the development. As a result, Lendlease redesigned the timeline for the project, bringing forward conservation activities and pushing out some of the impacts and making the commitment that at no time during the life of the development will there be less core koala habitat on site than there was before development started.
Our engagement will not stop, and our assessment of our investment is under review. We are prepared to walk away from Lendlease if we think their plans won’t protect the koalas and (this is the key bit) if we think there's no prospect of changing their mind through engagement.
Right now, we would prefer to remain as a voice for the voiceless, because we believe that by being there, we can help bring about the right outcome for koalas.
People might say that's a convenient excuse. And I completely understand the cynicism. But to that I'd say, look at our track record. We’re not afraid to divest on ethical grounds and we do this a lot, even when it is difficult for us, because we put ethics first.
For example, in 2019, we divested from IOOF even though they were one of our major shareholders. In 2020 we divested from Marsh & McLennan for their support of the Adani Carmichael mine, even though we have an existing contract with one of their subsidiaries.
Perhaps most importantly, when we divested, it wasn’t by the back door. No, instead we were loud and proud, making headlines on the way out because for divestment to be effective it needs to be heard. Sadly, the reality is that around the world, humans are busily destroying habitats and inflicting misery on other creatures. This is happening on our watch and it’s time for it to change.
But animal protection issues are too often overlooked or not prioritised by many investors, even those in the responsible investing community. We’re trying to change this by putting animal welfare on the sustainable investment agenda to raise understanding and expertise.
The best-case scenario for these koalas, and all animals, is a new approach. Because to do right by animals means to see the world through their eyes. It means considering their welfare not just because they’re part of our evolutionary past, but because they’re sentient beings who are just as deserving of a future as anyone else. And we believe that right now there isn’t an investment manager or super fund on the planet who is devoting more resources and energy to improving the prospects of the Mt. Gilead koala colony.
I know asking you to place your trust in us as a company is a tall ask in this day and age where we are surrounded by so much corporate greed and wrongdoing and greenwash and just general bullshit. But that's not us, it never has been. And it's not me either. The plight of koalas breaks my heart, and I personally would struggle to live with myself if we let koalas down on this.
But if we get this right, we can help ensure this koala colony – and others – are protected not just for today or the next 10 years, but into perpetuity. What’s happening at Mt Gilead is but a microcosm of what’s happening around the world right now.
Getting this right could provide a blueprint for how human progress works not just for us, but for the other sentient beings with which we share this planet.
To all the wonderful activists fighting so hard for these koalas on the ground, if you are somehow reading this, we are on the same side.
Let's work together for the koalas, leveraging the different tools and strategies we each have.
From our Ethical Stewardship Lead