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Westpac should exit financing Solomon Island logging operations: Greens

Media Release
Lee Rhiannon 15 Aug 2012

The Australian Greens’ call for Westpac to immediately withdraw from financing Solomon Island logging operations has been amplified by a motion moved in the Senate today by Greens Senator and forests spokesperson Lee Rhiannon and voted down by Labor and the Coalition (motion below).

 

“If Westpac fails to immediately wind up its financing of logging operations in the Solomon Islands the bank’s public reputation will be damaged,” Senator Rhiannon said.

 

“Westpac promotes itself as a bank that takes the environment seriously and has won numerous sustainability awards such as the prestigious Origin Gold Banksia Award.

 

“Reports that Westpac has become a guarantor for a new project to log pristine rainforest on Vella Lavella are at odds with the bank’s claim it is reducing lending in this sector.

 

“The damage from logging to the Solomon Islands’ people and natural environment is significant and well-documented.

 

“Westpac will find it hard to wash its hands of links with rapacious logging practices unless it moves decisively to clean up its business. Anything less leaves Westpac’s claims to support environmental standards in tatters,” Senator Rhiannon said.

 

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Motion - Senator Rhiannon:

(a) notes that:

(i) Westpac’s environmental credentials have assisted it to promote the bank’s business,

(ii) Westpac was the first Australian bank to adopt the Equator Principles, agreeing not to fund projects that endanger communities or the environment, and is a signatory to the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative,

(iii) the Solomon Islands is listed as having the highest percentage loss of rainforest in the Pacific,

(iv) logging in the Solomon Islands is unsustainable and has led to significant pressure on the natural environment, friction within local communities, threats to food security and breaches of human rights, including the sexual exploitation of women and children,

(v) recent investigations show Westpac has provided loans to companies in the Solomon Islands which have been involved in illegal tree-felling, hiring of illegal workers and alleged non-payment of compensation for illegal logging,

(vii) Westpac claims it has reduced lending to the forestry industry to 9 per cent of its loan book in the Solomon Islands and is taking on no new business in the Solomon Islands, yet it has recently gone guarantor for a new project to log pristine rainforest on Vella Lavella,

(viii) the Australian Greens have written to the Banksia Environmental Foundation asking it to consider withdrawing past awards to Westpac because of this involvement, and

(ix) Westpac has refused to investigate the loans it has made to those involved in illegal logging or to withdraw immediately from financing logging operations in the Solomon Islands; and

(b) calls on the Government to:

(i) approach the Banksia Environmental Foundation, which administers the Prime Minister’s Environmentalist of the Year awards with Government funding, to ask the foundation to review and consider withdrawing Westpac’s past awards,

(ii) initiate talks with Westpac seeking a commitment to immediately end links with forestry in the Solomon Islands and contribute to forest restoration, and

(iii) conduct an investigation into the collapse of the forestry industry due to illegal practices which will impact on the whole Solomon Islands’ economy and bring hardship to local people, if Westpac does not in the short-term withdraw from financing logging operations.

 

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