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It is high time Super Funds classify nuclear weapons as “controversial weapons” and divest, now they have joined chemical weapons and biological weapons as illegal under international law.

This article was originally published in Pearls and Irritations: www.

Given the appalling events unfolding in Ukraine, and Putin’s veiled and not so veiled threats to use nuclear weapons, it was no surprise to find 86% of Australians think it is unacceptable to threaten to use nuclear weapons (IPSOS March 2022).

Yet at the same time, many superannuation funds have been opaque about investing in nuclear weapons producers. Most people would have no idea that their retirement savings are providing funding to these companies.

There is big money in superannuation. Funds under management at 31 December 2021 totalled $3.5 trillion, with $2.3 trillion in APRA regulated funds and around $1.1 trillion in ATO regulated self managed super funds.

The APRA funds now face now compulsory disclosure of their holdings. On the 31st of March, legislation that passed last year entered into force. What impacts will this have?

In a recent report, the campaign group Quit Nukes examined over 20 of the largest super funds in Australia. They found many funds proudly claimed to entirely exclude controversial weapons like chemical weapons and biological weapons, yet failed to even classify nuclear weapons as controversial weapons.

Some funds, such as Vision Super, Colonial First State and BT Super say they exclude nuclear weapons, but use thresholds or old treaty provisions to justify continuing holdings.

Members of Australian Super would be shocked to know they have nearly $1.5 billion with nuclear weapon producers, and disturbingly the largest amount (by percentage) is in their “Socially Aware” fund. Worse still IOOF, MLC Super and ANZ Smart Choice Super do not have controversial weapons exclusions at all.

This is astonishing, especially given nuclear weapons are now illegal under international law, joining chemical weapons and biological weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted at the UN by 122 countries in 2017.

Nuclear weapons are the worst of all weapons of mass destruction. There are three reasons this is true. A comprehensive analysis finds even a limited nuclear war, involving less than 1 % of the world’s arsenal, would kill 52 to107 million people, vaporising or burning women, children, hospitals and so much more with the explosion and subsequent mega fires.

Secondly, the smoke from these fires would loft high into the stratosphere and stay there for well over a decade. This would cause major climate change over a very short period with unprecedented falls in global temperatures and massive environmental consequences.

Finally, global agriculture production would be markedly reduced– between 10 and 20 % yield reductions for rice, wheat and corn, again for over a decade. This will lead to global food shortages and famine, putting 2 billion lives at risk.

To quote Helen Durham, Director of Law and Policy, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) “Nuclear weapons are the most terrifying weapon ever invented. They are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, and in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time. They threaten irreversible harm to the environment and to future generations. Indeed, they threaten the very survival of humanity….The ICRC has repeatedly expressed its deep alarm at the increasing risk that nuclear weapons will again be used by intent, miscalculation or accident and stressed that any risk of use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable, given their catastrophic humanitarian consequences.”

It is encouraging that more half of the superannuation funds in Australia have rightly (and proudly) divested from tobacco. A recent RIAA report found super funds that invest responsibly take greater market share and have higher returns.

A good reputation is an important part of attracting members, and recent changes have made it easy for members to move funds. With greater transparency comes greater accountability. There is increasing momentum: Australian Ethical, Christian Super, Crescent Wealth, Future Super, Host Plus, Verve Super and Active Super all are nuclear weapons free. Aware Super, CBUS and Care Super are in the process of reviewing their policies. An up-to-date list is held on the Quit Nukes website.

Polling in 2021 found more than two thirds of Australians think their super should not fund nuclear weapons. (IPSOS 2021). Getting rid of nuclear weapons today is the Cold War’s unfinished business. Putin is on a war path that may or may not involve using nuclear weapons.

For the longer game of stigmatising, prohibiting and eliminating these abhorrent bombs we would all do well to disentangle our own finances from their manufacturers. As for super funds, it’s time to move nuclear weapons to where they belong – in with other controversial weapons for utter rejection.

Dr Margaret Beavis

Margaret Beavis is a recently retired GP and co- director of Quit Nukes (an initiative of the Medical Association for Prevention of War in conjunction with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Australia).