Business chiefs urge PM to invest ‘sustainably’ for COVID-19 recovery

Finance and industry heavyweights including the big banks and major corporations are urging the federal government to invest in health, education, clean energy and urban infrastructure to help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

A letter with 48 signatories was sent to the Prime Minister on Monday calling for "sustainable investments" in policies driving healthcare, affordable housing, public transport and liveable cities, education and low-emissions energy generation.

Business leaders are calling on the federal government to use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as “the basis for a socially just and green recovery” from the coronavirus downturn.

The letter was organised by the United Nations affiliate Global Compact Network Australia, which said recovery policies should be consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to which the federal government has committed on the international and domestic fronts.

"Creating a fairer, more resilient and cleaner economy does not require the reinvention of frameworks or agreements. Instead, we are in a unique position to use the Sustainable Development Goals as the basis for a socially just and green recovery," the letter said.

The campaign has been endorsed by the the Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative, which is funded by major banks, superannuation funds, insurance companies and financial sector peak bodies.

ASFI co-chairman Simon O’Connor said it was crucial to promote education, housing, transport and climate change "to create an economy that is fairer and more sustainable".

"These issues are really front and centre for us in the finance sector. Our industries are inextricably linked and exposed to the financial success of the nation," Mr O’Connor said.

"Despite the disruption from the pandemic, all our members are still deeply engaged in these issues, and our financial market regulators tell us we need to consider these things."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that energy challenges would be a factor in the post-pandemic economy.

"I have talked a lot of time about what we need to do in the gas sector and I'll have a lot more to say about that in the months ahead," Mr Morrison said.

"What we're doing in our manufacturing sector, what we're doing to get infrastructure, getting almost $10 billion brought forward – that's the plan."

The United Nations sustainable development goals include ending poverty and hunger, good health and education, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy and reducing global warming, reducing inequality, liveable cities and resilient infrastructure.

Chartered Accountants ANZ chief executive Ainslie van Onselen said the pandemic created a "golden opportunity for Australia to rise to the occasion on a sustainable future".

"Future generations will be paying the cost of this support and so deserve to have a fairer, cleaner and more resilient economy in return," Ms van Onselen said.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has endorsed a warning that unless international climate policies are made drastically more ambitious, the disruption under the trajectory of climate change will cause global GDP to fall by 25 per cent by 2100.

Representatives for power suppliers, the heaviest-polluting Australian industry, have endorsed a nationwide target to achieve "net zero" emissions by 2050, as have employer representatives the Business Council of Australia and Australian Industry Group, and big miners Rio Tinto and BHP.

Signatories to the letter to Mr Morrison include ASFI, which has representatives from NAB and Westpac on its steering committee, plus Optus, SunRice, Nestle Australia, Konica Minolta Australia, IKEA Australia, World Vision and Chartered Accountants ANZ.

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