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Westpac in rift with BCA on climate change policy

The banking giant still had “considerable alignment” with the BCA over its support for the Paris Agreement on global emissions, and its support for a price on carbon and climate change resilience measures, the spokesman said.

It added there were “many other areas we see in value in our relationship with the BCA, where we seek to work together.”

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A spokesman for the BCA said: “As has always been the case, our policy and advocacy agenda is developed by members, through our system of committees and at our regular meetings.”

Westpac launched the review of peak bodies and their stance on climate change after its annual general meeting, amid pressure on this issue from the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), an advocacy group.

The BCA is a powerful lobby group made up of the chief executives of more than 100 of Australia’s biggest companies. Six member companies have announced or conducted reviews of their business association memberships over diverging views on climate change, the ACCR said last month.

Telstra last month announced an “alignment review” of its key industry association memberships over climate change policy, saying at the time that lobby groups should refrain from advocacy where there was no “broad consensus.” The telecommunications giant is expected to publish the review in the second half of 2019.

The chief executive of the BCA, Jennifer Westacott, said in May that the reviews of industry association membership were in response to “activist pressure.” On climate change, she said Australia needed a “realistic, pragmatic plan” that included a market-based mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The BCA has previously copped criticism over a Twitter post last year that slammed Labor’s target for emissions reduction as “economy wrecking.”

The disagreement comes as banks have faced growing shareholder pressure to deal with risks from lending to carbon-intensive sectors such as coal mining and coal-fired electricity generation.

Westpac’s review of peak body memberships, which also looked at the Australian Banking Association, examined its principles for engaging with industry associations.

It said the bank generally sought “broad alignment” with the policy positions of peak bodies of which it was a member, but this would not stop the bank from having a different view. This was especially the case where the bank’s position was in the best interests of customers, shareholders, employees or the wider economy.

The bank would continue to monitor its memberships of lobby groups and would regularly assess these against its top-level principles and “outcomes arising from our engagement.”

Clancy Yeates is a business reporter.

Colin Kruger is a business reporter. He joined the Sydney Morning Herald in 1999 as its technology editor. Other roles have included the Herald’s deputy business editor and online business editor.

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