Eight Melbourne University students initiated a naked protest last week after it was announced that the University of Melbourne would not give up its investments in the fossil fuel industry. Over 4,000 academics, administrative staff and former University of Melbourne students signed an open letter to support the protests and push the institution to end its investments in fossil fuels.
The students, all members of Fossil Free MU group, climbed onto the top of the iconic Old Quad building and stripped off their clothes. The message "drop your assets" was painted all over their backs and buttocks. The Fossil Free MU member are insisting for their alma mater to free investments in coal, oil and gas companies, as well as phase out all investments in fossil fuels over a period of five years, writes Chloe Sargeant of The Pedestrian Daily. The group remained on the roof for about ten minutes before the security guards asked them to leave.
The protest in Melbourne was a part of a week-long campaign involving university students around Australia. One of the organizers, student Anastasia Gramatakos, confirmed she had seen official papers proving that the University of Melbourne was investing in fossil fuel-producing companies. Gramatakos commented:
"We've had to be courageous and we're showing the University everything we've got.It's now their turn to show us what they've got – to show some courage and take action against the fossil fuel industry."
According to internal sources, the University grows its investment capital via the Victorian Funds Management Corporation (VFMC), whose clients include some other prominent public sector organisations. The last VFMC's annual report marked Swinburne University, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Royal Children's Hospital as its other investors.
In an interview with James Hancock of the ABC News, she also pointed out that the University of Melbourne was not supposed to keep funding industries which were contributing to climate change. Another active protester, Aoife Nicklason, said in front of Marissa Calligeros of The Age that she hoped the university would finally hear the students' message.
The students' campaign against university's investments in fuel fossils has been active for three years now. During all these years, the students organized rallies, referenda, forums and public speeches to raise awareness of the problem and to promote divestment. Since late 2015, the students have started working with the University's Sustainability Executive to insist on divestment via formal pathways.
The negotiations failed last week when the MU Chief Financial Officer Alan Tait, confirmed the University would keep investing in fossils fuels, writes Tang Li of the Daily Mail.
Professor John Wiseman, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, commented that divestment from fossil fuels was a vital step on the way to a safe climate future.
Melbourne University has defended its investment plans and confirmed that it did not directly buy shares in fossil fuel-producing companies. Deputy Provost Susan Elliott commented:
"Fossil fuels are a reality, what we need to do is to do the research and the education, which is the university's responsibility, to see how those fuels can be better used and what alternatives we can develop."
After the massive students' protests across the country, Sydney University recently announced its plans to divest from several of its fossil fuel investments, but said it would keep its investments in coal.