11 Apr 2014

Groups boycott bank over mining

6:15 pm on 11 April 2014

Environmental groups protesting Westpac's involvement with a mining company on the West Coast are urging people to boycott the Australian bank.

Bathurst Resources won the right to mine for coal on the Denniston Plateau after legal challenges from environmentalists.

Protester Jason Holland (right) makes his feelings known outside the bank's Lambton Quay branch in central Wellington.

Protester Jason Holland (right) makes his feelings known outside the bank's Lambton Quay branch in central Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Protests were held in Wellington and Dunedin on Friday, with demonstrators the capital cutting up their Westpac cards and walking into the branch to close their accounts. More protests are planned for Saturday.

Environmental organisations 350 and Coal Action Network Aotearoa say Westpac is financing Bathurst with $5 million in loans and providing an overdraft.

"Bathurst is in a position where their bank account is down to under $10 million. So by allowing them to not pay back that $5 million they're really freeing up the money that's essential for them to continue their plans at Denniston," 350's national coordinator Ashlee Gross said.

"They're also in a tricky situation because of international coal prices. They're too low for them to go ahead and start mining the coal at Denniston and selling it right now. They've said they're going to delay ramping up production, but it leaves them in a spot where they're very much dependent on Westpac's financing."

Ms Gross said the protest groups have launched an online petition encouraging Westpac customers to move banks. About 160 people have signed up so far.

Protester Lynne Brunton is one of those cutting ties. She said the bank needed to take notice of what their customers are saying and stop financing of projects she said contributed to climate change.

"I hope that Westpac stands up and takes a look at their policies and practices, because they put themselves out as an environmentally friendly bank but actually, they're not. I don't want my money going there."

Westpac spokesperson Haley Ritchie said while the bank provides banking services to Bathurst Resources, it has not been involved in financing the Denniston mine project.

"Westpac is committed to the transition to a low carbon economy," she said. "As we move forward, our focus is on opportunities to support projects that use clean technologies and that are making the transition to a carbon constrained operating environment."

Protesters say Westpac needs to listen to customers' concerns.

Protesters say Westpac needs to listen to customers' concerns. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski