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Russian Assets Amendment Bill

18 October 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak in support of this bill. I should say from the outset that it is my assumption that this bill covers in its scope the superannuation of members of parliament. I do not consider that to be a conflict of interest, given I am part of a class shared with all members of this parliament, but I did want to put that on the record. It is my assumption that that is the case, but I might ask some questions about that in the committee stage.

The bill that has been brought to us today is in response to the current events in Russia and Ukraine. The Australian Greens have publicly condemned Vladimir Putin's military aggression in Ukraine, as we condemn all military aggression. Indeed, the Greens believe in peace and nonviolence, and it is a fundamental principle of our political party. It is one of our four pillars. We have called on all countries to remember the human cost of war and to work peacefully through diplomatic channels to de-escalate the situation.

The human cost of Russia's invasion is significant. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, has estimated that 7.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine—7.5 million people. Those innocent people have been forced to flee to seek safety, protection and assistance.

The hostilities have resulted in civilian casualties, damage to homes, wide-scale disruptions in power and water supplies, and once again we see that the cost of war is being borne by ordinary people, ordinary civilians. While the UNHCR and other agencies have provided shelter, blankets, tarps and even solar lamps to over 2.1 million people, the ongoing nature of this conflict will severely stretch aid efforts, and we welcome the South Australian government's commitment to supporting the Ukrainian people.

In particular, we note that in April more than 100 Ukrainian refugees arrived in Adelaide, and we welcomed them to our state. The state government has also sent aid in the form of medical equipment, and we certainly support those efforts. I know that many South Australians have donated their time and money to support the people of Ukraine during this crisis.

The Greens affirm the right of the people of Ukraine to sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we condemn this invasion by Russia. We believe that nonviolent actions are always preferable to armed conflict, and we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Just last week we saw the horrendous missile attacks by the Russian armed forces, leaving more than 100 people injured. These attacks were undertaken when people were on their way to work and on their way to school. The spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General has stated this week:

The Secretary-General is deeply shocked by today's large-scale missile attacks by the armed forces of the Russian Federation on cities across Ukraine that reportedly resulted in widespread damage to civilian areas and led to dozens of people being killed and injured.

These types of attacks are shocking, and like all South Australians I have been deeply saddened and distressed by the footage I have seen on the news each night. We must do all that we can to find peaceful solutions to this crisis and to provide support to people who are in trouble.

This bill that has been introduced by the government is designed to create a mechanism for Funds SA to divest from Russian assets. It is my understanding that this mechanism is not required; however, it is an important principle being established here. Funds SA has, again I understand, already divested Russian assets from the $32 million worth down to $9 million, and we have been advised that the remaining $9 million worth of assets are difficult to divest as the global appetite for Russian investments has diminished at this time.

The purpose of this bill, therefore, is to ensure that the minister can give a direction to Funds SA to divest itself from these Russian connections. The Greens support this measure to withdraw our support for economic support for Russian enterprises. It is an important precedent that is being set here today. Giving the minister the power to direct Funds SA to divest from undesirable investments could prove beneficial in terms of addressing other crises we face, and in particular I note the growing climate crisis.

Numerous organisations locally and worldwide have called for divestment from fossil fuels, and according to Yale Climate Connections, an initiative of the Yale School of the Environment, globally over 1,500 institutions have agreed to divest from fossil fuels to a total of $39 trillion worth of investments: 11 per cent of these divestments came from government. If you look through the global fossil fuel divestment commitments database, there are a wide range of organisations, including local governments, universities, faith-based organisations, healthcare and cultural institutions that have done this here in Australia as well as overseas.

Divestment is a powerful lever: it sends markets a message about our values. We know that money talks, and I think the parliament supporting this bill today sends a very clear message that we do not want to see this South Australian super scheme being connected with the Russian government and the immoral activities of that government and the activities that are illegal in that they defy international law. This is an important principle and one that the Greens are supportive of.