Peter Costello future fund

Peter Costello (Liberal Party player, potential chairman of a combined Nine-Fairfax, and chairman of the Future Fund) believes compulsory superannuation payments should be directed away from industry super funds into a single national default fund — somewhat like the Future Fund, which handles public service superannuation funds management.

“Instead of the government arbitrating between industry funds and private funds, there is a fair argument that compulsory payments, the so-called default payments, should be allocated to a national safety net administrator, let’s call it the Super Guarantee Agency,” he said last October. “It would be a not-for-profit agency which would set up its own investment board.”

This is all very interesting in light of this week’s Future Fund results. In 2017-18, the Future Fund managed a 9.3% return on its $146 billion pool of funds, which helped deliver a three-year per annum return of 7.6%, a five-year per annum return of 10.4%, and a 10-year return of 8.7% per annum.

How does that stack up against industry super funds? The Future Fund outperformed all super funds over 10 years — the best super funds managed 7.5%, due to the impact of the financial crisis on financial markets in 2008 and 2009 which meant all super funds went backwards. At that time, the Future Fund had only just commenced and had yet to roll out its investment strategy. It thus held over 60% of its assets in cash, meaning it dodged the GFC bullet.

Over the shorter term, the results are poorer. Last year’s 9.3% return wouldn’t make it into the top 20 performing super funds, all but three of which were industry funds (the others were corporate funds). In fact industry funds, according to Chant West, averaged 10.3% — a full one point higher than the Future Fund. Over three years, similarly, the Future Fund isn’t in the top 20 and nearly a full point below the average of industry super funds. Over five years, the Future Fund would be placed sixth behind the major industry super funds, but outperformed the average industry super fund by 0.7 points.

Costello was appointed chairman in early 2014, so make of that what you will. But industry super fund members would be substantially out of pocket if they’d been put into a national fund that performed like Costello’s Future Fund. We will be watching to see if Nine employees, including future Fairfax staff, report on that underperformance. 

That means Costello’s prognostications on superannuation make about as much sense as his efforts on a banking royal commission. Last year he airily waved away the need for a royal commission because there was no “schematic illegality” within banks. That’s aged about as well as the concessions you opened up for wealthy middle-aged tax dodgers, Pete.

Costello has now belatedly discovered that there really is schematic illegality in the banks. So, he has demanded to know where the regulators were. “The next step of the royal commission,” he said, “is to actually find out why the regulatory agencies weren’t awake and at the wheel.”

Darn tootin’, Pete. Those bloody regulators, eh? Who was it who set up ASIC and APRA and left financial services consumers without the protection of a real watchdog? Who moved financial services consumer regulation from the ACCC, where Alan Asher infuriated the banks by taking them to court, to a toothless and timid revamped business regulator, ASIC, in the late 1990s?

Don’t be shy, Pete. It was you. This is the house of financial regulation that Peter built and it’s collapsing at the royal commission he said wasn’t needed because of the schematic illegality he said didn’t exist.

Thank goodness this bloke isn’t in a position of real power — like head of a big media company, for instance.

Should Costello stay at the helm of the Future Fund? Write to [email protected] and let us know.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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