Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

It seems that the Nine media company is quite taken with Liberal Senator Andrew “virus guy” Bragg.

Last week The Sydney Morning Herald gave, in effect, a free ad for his new book attacking Australia’s compulsory superannuation model, ran an excerpt from it, and ran a follow-up story the next day recycling one of its core myths — that industry super funds are major political donors.

Bragg was also given a slot on far-right shock-jock Ben Fordham’s radio program on Nine-owned 2GB to spruik the book. Bragg also received glowing coverage from the SMH earlier this year when commenting on super.

At no stage in any of the SMH coverage was Bragg’s history at the Financial Services Council — the front group for bank-controlled retail super funds — or his central role in a discredited anti-industry fund campaign run out of the Business Council of Australia, mentioned.

It took Industry Super Australia’s Bernie Dean to point some of that out, when he was belatedly given the opportunity to respond to Bragg’s attacks a week later.

But it’s not just Dean’s response that appears today. The SMH also gave Bragg an ad in the most valuable newspaper real estate of all, its editorial.

Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, who has just published a book entitled Bad Egg: How to Fix Super, has called for major changes to the current system. He says the experience of the past couple of months will make people more willing to ask deep questions about the purpose of super. ‘People know it’s their money now more than they did before the crisis,’ he said. It is certainly a debate worth having.

Again, no mention of Bragg’s past. The editorial also recycled the lie about industry super funds (“union-backed”, according to the editorial, no mention of the employer groups who share control of them): “industry super funds should make full disclosure of their links to trade unions and their investment policies”.

The issue of disclosure is interesting, nonetheless. If disclosure of funding links is important, it’s strange that the SMH editorial writer, while convinced of the need for industry funds to reveal their funding connections with unions and Labor, failed to mention Nine’s financial links with the Liberal Party.

Last year, as the AFR’s Joe Aston revealed, Nine CEO Hugh Marks hosted a $10,000-a-head Liberal fundraiser at Nine’s Willoughby studios, with Scott Morrison as guest of honour — and a number of other Liberal ministers, including Assistant Minister for Superannuation Jane Hume.

Jane Hume, readers will recall, is notorious for repeatedly calling industry funds “unholy”.

If Nine’s hypocrisy isn’t enough, remember that the company is chaired by Liberal elder Peter Costello, who is also chair of the Future Fund. Costello, who as Treasurer pushed hard for a “superannuation choice” campaign designed to undermine industry finds in the last term of the Howard government, has for years called for the Future Fund to supplant industry super funds as the default super vehicle.

And while the SMH was flogging Bragg’s book, it curiously overlooked a report by financial services research firm Rainmaker published last Friday that showed industry super funds had declined 5% in the March quarter — when the initial pandemic-induced stockmarket crash occurred — but retail funds had declined 12% and self-managed funds 9%.

The Financial Review ignored the report as well, although such is that paper’s obsession with destroying industry super, that’s par for the course. Indeed, no one outside the financial industry press covered the report except ABC News.

While Bragg continues his war on industry super, and Tim Wilson uses a parliamentary committee to bombard it with vexatious questions, the government itself is in a more difficult position. Industry super, which holds nearly $800 billion in funds, will be crucial to the economic recovery.

Business investment had collapsed during the Great Morrison Stagnation before the pandemic, smashed by persistent weak household spending. Industry super, which compared to retail funds is far more prepared to look beyond equities markets and invest in infrastructure and start-ups, will be a key source for greater and more efficient investment in coming years.

Greg Combet, chair of both Industry Super and industry super fund manager (and holder of roughly $70 billion in infrastructure investments) IFM Investors, has also been a key figure in the government’s so-far-successful “we’re all in this together” recovery response, and is on the National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission.

Combet has taken time out from his commission work recently to chip Wilson’s politicking.

It appears that even if Liberals instinctively want to destroy industry super, the government can at least temporarily put aside its hatred when it thinks it can benefit from the economic power of the sector.

At Liberal-linked Nine, however, they’re just getting started.

Peter Fray

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