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

The latest target in the Liberal Party’s war on superannuation is The New Daily, owned jointly by industry super funds. The point man in this campaign is Andrew “virus guy” Bragg. He has attacked The New Daily as biased and “being used to attack critics of superannuation and political opponents”.

He also suggested it’s a waste of workers’ money, a breach of regulations around the use of superannuation funds, and an example of why the government is right to impose much tighter restrictions that will prevent industry super funds from spending money on advertising.

“The complacency and largesse is there for people to see,” says Bragg. “Super seems to think it is a state within a state.”

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This is quite the Damascene conversion for Bragg, to suddenly declare his concern about super funds wasting workers’ money. Bragg, you see, was some years ago a senior executive of the Financial Services Council (FSC), the front group for retail super funds owned — back then — by the big banks and AMP.

Those are the retail super funds that the Hayne royal commission “exposed” as having ripped off, gouged, rorted and stole from their members to the tune of billions.

Except, it didn’t take the royal commission to reveal that. The rorts, related party transactions and ridiculous fees being extracted by the wealth management arms of the big banks and AMP from workers’ super were well-known — although no one suspected that they extended to the disgusting extent of charging fees of dead people, as some major institutions did.

Back in 2012, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) warned about related party transactions:

Relatedness’ per se is not detrimental to fund members. However, when we consider whether the fund has been established on a not-for-profit basis, or as a retail commercial endeavour, we find that the trustees of retail funds pay significantly higher fees to related service providers. In contrast, the fees paid by trustees of not-for-profit funds to related parties are not significantly different than those to independent service providers.

At the same time, Labor’s future of financial advice (FOFA) reforms were introduced to end some of the worst rorts, including people being charged every year for financial advice whether they got it or not. FOFA required that people had to opt-in to be charged for advice, but it was never retrospective. We learnt from the royal commission that not merely did retail funds often never provide any advice, but often there wasn’t an adviser allocated to a client. But they charged massive fees anyway.

For years these rorts went on without the FSC saying anything. Did Bragg ever speak out about related party transactions when APRA revealed them in 2012? Did he speak out when the FSC opposed FOFA, and sought to water it down, delay it and carve out exemptions?

Did Bragg display a single scintilla of the concern he now professes for workers’ super back when he was a senior executive in a body representing the most egregious abusers and rorters of the super system? Did he express one moment of concern about the behaviour of the FSC’s most senior members which cost millions of retail super funds members billions in lost retirement savings?

No — indeed, the evidence is that Bragg said whatever he was told to say at the FSC. That’s why, in 2015, he was the most ardent advocate of 15% compulsory super.

Although Australia moved ahead of most OECD nations to implement super in 1992, the contribution rate is not yet high enough to provide fully funded retirement incomes. At 9.5%, the rate is lagging behind the 15% required over a working lifetime to get the majority of Australians to a privately funded retirement.

Now, of course, Bragg professes a very different view. Another Damascene moment, perhaps, on the road to the Senate.

As for his objections to industry super collectively funding a media outlet (Bragg has no issues with the government handing free money to News Corp, apparently), it’s worth looking at his own record of attacking critics and political opponents.

After he left the FSC, Bragg moved to the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and tried to set up an anti-industry fund propaganda campaign alleging that industry super funds were some sort of union/Labor war chest unknowingly funded by members.

When Industry Super called out the lie, it induced an apoplectic reaction from right-wing business figures and the Business Council, which declared “that’s not the way we should run free speech in this country” and said the BCA wasn’t running the campaign — Bragg was “expressing his own views”.

Except, as the ABC’s Stephen Long revealed, the campaign was using online resources provided by the BCA.

Criticising industry funds for the way they communicate seems a strange hill to die on for a man involved in secret BCA-linked propaganda campaign.

“Super seems to think it is a state within a state,” says Bragg. Here’s something that more closely resembles a “state within a state”: Australia’s biggest corporations, and their bespoke industry lobby group, donating colossal amounts to political parties to turn a blind eye to outrageous gouging of Australians and prevent any inquiry into those practices by nobbling the regulator and preventing a royal commission as long as possible.

Any Liberal turning around now and feigning concern about workers’ super being misused hasn’t got a leg to stand on. But Andrew Bragg is the biggest hypocrite of all.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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