Australian church denounces cluster bomb financing

By Ecumenical News International
November 7, 2009

An Australian church leader has strongly criticised one of the country's largest financial institutions for providing financial support to an international firm that manufactures cluster bombs - writes Kim Cain.

The Uniting Church in Australia has claimed that in 2007, the Australia and New Zealand Bank (ANZ) provided a $US37.5 million line of credit to Lockheed Martin, a company that produces cluster bombs despite an international convention banning their manufacture, trade and use.

Mark Zirnsak, director of justice and international mission of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, said the ANZ has a policy that it will not directly fund the production of cluster munitions or landmines, but continues to provide finance to companies engaged in such activities.

"The ANZ is trying to have its cake and eat it. They don't want to be seen to be to facilitating the production of cluster munitions, but they still want to profit from being able to provide loans to companies involved in producing these dodgy weapons," Zirnsak said.

He claimed the ANZ was the only major Australian bank involved in supporting the making of cluster bombs.

The Uniting Church is Australia’s third largest denomination, and is a shareholder in ANZ. The church claims come as the Australian parliament is to consider a recommendation which calls for the prohibition of Australian investment in companies that manufacture cluster bombs.

Zirnsak said he has just discovered that the bank made the loan to Lockheed Martin back in 2007. At that time he was negotiating with the company to disinvest in businesses involved in the manufacture of cluster bombs or land-mines. "At no point did the ANZ disclose that it was in the process of providing such finance as an on-going activity," Zirnsak said.

He told Ecumenical News International that the church would continue to challenge ANZ on the issue and let the wider Australian public know of ANZ’s activities.

"We cannot understand why the bank would continue to invest in such companies with this level of commitment, and which could potentially embarrass them here and internationally when there are so many other excellent investments that they could make," Zirnsak noted.

An ANZ spokesperson was reported by Melbourne's Age newspaper as saying "the bank's defence policy explicitly prohibited directly financing 'controversial weapons', but the policy allowed general financing of the defence industry".

However Zirnsak said, "The reality is that to provide finance to one part of a company still frees up funds for all the activities the company is involved in. The ANZ cannot pretend that its hands are clean."

A cluster bomb contains multiple small explosives designed to break open in mid-air, releasing the explosives over a wide area.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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