Innes Willox and Michele O'Neil (Images: AAP)

The government’s Your Future, Your Super bill, designed to clamp down on industry super funds and establish greater government control over them, will “do more harm than good”, “leave more people in poor-performing funds for longer”, “create new compliance burdens that would add new costs and risks, and would divert management and board attention”, and represent “arbitrary powers granted to the treasurer of the day… [that] would set a dangerous precedent and would add a new and unpredictable source of sovereign risk to the investment process”.

Who says? Labor? Industry super funds? Trade unions? Actually, it’s Innes Willox of the major employer organisation Australian Industry Group. The bill is “disproportionate, ineffective and intrusive”, Willox says, and wouldn’t have survived a proper regulatory impact statement process if the government had bothered doing one.

Ouch.

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Willox has even written a letter with ACTU president Michele O’Neil, normally an arch-enemy of AI Group, to Senate crossbenchers urging them not to pass the bill.

The government is usually a big fan of Willox, especially on industrial relations. After all, AI Group members “employ hundreds of thousands of workers across Australia”, according to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. But after yesterday’s statement, Willox was reduced to a “vested interest” by bungle-prone Superannuation Minister Jane “make domestic violence victims raid their super” Hume.

Hume doesn’t usually lump employer groups in with trade unions on superannuation. In fact, one of the key elements to the Liberal Party’s long-running vilification of industry super is to never mention that they are jointly run by trade unions and employer groups. The government’s stenographers at News Corp and the Financial Review traditionally follow suit.

Hume is famous for her religious zealotry over superannuation, having claimed “the Labor Party is in an unholy alliance with the union movement and the industry superannuation movement”. Not an unholy alliance with employer groups and unions and the industry super movement.

In fact, Hume has traditionally separated employer groups from her Axis of Evil comments. Compulsory super was “very hard for employers”, she has said, and had “put a lot of people out of work”.

One can sense that now, doubtless more in sorrow than in anger, Hume has been forced to shift employers — or at least members of AI Group — into the unholy alliance.

The grim reality for Hume and the Liberals is that industry super has always lived up to what’s on the label. It is a model in which unions and employers work together in the best interests of their workers. And it has delivered far better returns for workers, generated more jobs, made more investment in key sectors like infrastructure, and done more for economic growth, than bank-run retail super funds that have focused on playing the sharemarket. It has locked unions and employers together in a joint enterprise that builds the nation and safeguards the retirements of Australians.

You couldn’t have designed a better model to cement trade unions and the progressive movement into the capitalist system, if you think rationally about it. But Liberals can’t think rationally about super. Unions and employers working together is “unholy”.

Other institutions, however, need to be very, very wary of being caught up in the Liberals’ war on super.

Courtesy of a leak by the Liberals’ leading backbench warrior against industry super Andrew Bragg (that’s the Andrew Bragg who once explained in detail why compulsory super needed to be increased to 15%), the business press is today reporting that the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s deputy chair Helen Rowell has written to Bragg saying APRA’s review of its guidance to super funds around use of funds was well advanced and it would be considering whether any enforcement action would be required.

The Liberals are particularly keen to destroy Industry Super Australia (ISA), the lobby, campaign and research group funded by more than a dozen major industry super funds. ISA has been central, over more than a decade, to consulting on financial services legislation and campaigning, mostly successfully, against attacks on the industry super sector launched over and over again by the Liberals.

APRA giving legitimacy to a bald campaign of intimidation by the Liberal Party does little for the credibility of a regulatory body that was monstered by Kenneth Hayne in the banking royal commission, which exposed the rorts and rip-offs of retail super funds. Asleep at the wheel when retail funds were ripping off their members, but going after industry funds for funding ISA and advertising that they’re better than retail super funds? Yep, that’s a good look.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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