Sides square off ahead of DCC vote

Both sides of the divestment debate are warning of the consequences if they do not get their way when the Dunedin City Council votes whether to dump fossil fuel investments today.

ProGas Otago says voting in favour of dumping fossil fuels would send the wrong message to oil and gas companies when it came to investing in Dunedin, while Oil Free Otago says Dunedin would be a ''laughing stock'' if it turned back on divestment now.

The council is voting today on whether to adopt an ethical investment policy, which also includes divesting from investments in tobacco, arms, gambling and pornography, for the city's $82.5 million Waipori Fund.

Oil Free Otago spokeswoman Rosemary Penwarden said after the council started the process last year it was too late to turn back.

''It would make Dunedin a laughing stock around the world if they said they wouldn't divest now,'' Ms Penwarden said.

Divesting from fossil fuels was the responsible thing to do for the future.

The vote came after the group held ''harbour blockade practice'' at Back Beach in Port Chalmers yesterday.

About 10 members of the group went out in kayaks and practised formations and ''ready response manoeuvres'', which could be used when oil exploration companies visit the waters offshore from Dunedin.

''We're practising so that we can safely and effectively protect our oceans when we need to.''

The action coincided with the fifth anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon disaster.

ProGas Otago spokesman Cr Andrew Whiley said divesting would send the ''wrong message'' to gas exploration companies when it came to investing and creating jobs in the city.

Other cities keen to attract investment - for example Invercargill and Timaru - would bring up divestment as a negative of doing business in Dunedin if commercial quantities of gas were found off-shore.

''It's political grandstanding by some councillors and it's an unfortunate process we are going down.''

There was also the question of where the council drew the line - for example, would it cut investments from banks which lent money to fossil fuel extraction companies?

Instead, it would be more effective for the council to invest some of the Waipori Fund in green technologies.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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