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Banks to face farmers’ fury at upcoming AGMs

A host of north-west NSW farmers will use upcoming annual general meetings to put the heat on three of Australia’s largest banks and call on them to stop lending to fossil fuel companies behind some of the most controversial and destructive projects in the region.

Tomorrow, farmers will question Westpac over its decision to lend to Santos, APA Group, and Whitehaven Coal, while ANZ and NAB will face similar questions next week.

National Australia Bank and Westpac participated in Whitehaven’s February refinancing, while ANZ Bank was part of Whitehaven’s 2017 refinancing.

All of the big four banks signed off on loans to Santos last month, and to APA Group in May 2018.

Coonamble mixed cropping farmers Row and Adam Macrae, who would be impacted by the proposed APA western gas pipeline, will be among those to question Westpac and NAB over their dealings with the company.

Mrs Macrae said it was important the public knew that these banks were offering loans to companies that threatened to upend regional communities like Coonamble.

“These banks have a case to answer when the companies they fund are behind projects that will directly impact communities like mine,” she said.

“We want to be part of the solution and we will not go away until projects like these are knocked on the head.

“It would go a long way if one bank came out and said they would cut off funding to these fossil fuel or energy groups that want to proceed with projects that aren’t wanted by the community. People would shift their money away from banks that continued to support those companies.

“As much as banks need us, we need them, particularly for farming enterprises, and I think if one came out and said it wouldn’t fund companies with links to these projects, it would open doorways for people.”

Farmer Dave Watt, whose properties are impacted by both Whitehaven’s Underground Narrabri coal mine and the company’s Vickery coal mine project near Boggabri, will also ask a question during Westpac’s AGM tomorrow.

“We’re speaking up because we want to keep these financial institutions accountable for the damage their lending is doing to our communities. 

“By lending to companies like Whitehaven, these banks are contributing to the negative impact projects like the Vickery Coal Mine are having in the north west.

“We hope by drawing attention to these unethical lending decisions by the banks, we might see some change in their behaviour and banks will be reluctant to lend to companies like Whitehaven that tear communities apart.”

Narrabri farmer and retired agronomist Stuart Murray, who will ask questions at the Westpac AGM tomorrow and NAB AGM next week, said banks’ commitments to climate targets were hollow when they continued to lend to polluting fossil fuel companies.

“Whitehaven coal is a company with a long list of non-compliances and now a string of alleged breaches of the state’s mining laws,” he said.

“Planned expansions of its thermal coal mines in the north west will mean Whitehaven will have permission to continue mining for at least the next 30 years. It is hypocritical for financial institutions like NAB to claim to be committed to a reduction of carbon emissions, while at the same time lend to this environmental vandal.”

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