On Wednesday the law firm wrote to 20 funds, which manage a combined $1.7 trillion and include AustralianSuper, REST Super, Hostplus, UniSuper, Aware Super and the Australian Retirement Trust, demanding that they hand over whatever information they have justifying the investment and proving they are meeting their legal duties.
The letter accused the funds of “deficiencies in accordance with international human rights principles and fiduciary obligations to act in the best financial interests of members and with the requisite degree of care, skill and diligence”.
It said Santos’ growth strategy was “financially questionable” and that the Barossa drilling breached local Indigenous communities’ economic, social and cultural rights over the Sea Country it would occur in.
The super funds were obliged under international human rights principles to “exercise [their] leverage [over Santos] to prevent or mitigate these adverse human rights impacts”. But there was “no evidence of the fund acting in accordance” with these principles, it alleged, as they continued to invest in Santos.
The members demanded the that funds explain how they planned to meet these duties.
Seven traditional owners from the Tiwi Islands and the Larrakia people, including Dennis Murphy Tipakalippa, the Munupi clan leader who last year successfully challenged Santos’ regulatory approval for the project, are also part of the super fund members’ complaint.
Santos says the Barossa project is needed to maintain exports critical to energy security for Japan and the rest of Asia and said last week that production could still start as planned in the first half of 2025, despite the regulator still not giving new approvals.
Equity Generation Lawyers associate Vidhya Karnamadakala said there had been “a wholesale failure” by these funds to listen to Indigenous people’s concerns about the project, posing a financial and legal risk for their members.
“Since 2011, institutional investors