I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land here in Canberra – the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples listening to this address today.
I’m so pleased to be speaking to on the 30th anniversary of the birth of universal superannuation.
What started as a modest contribution to retirement savings through industrial awards has flourished into a fundamental economic asset.
We are the world’s 13th largest economy but have a $3.4 trillion pool of retirement savings which is the third largest in the world.
It is providing domestic savings to invest in Australia and abroad. It is growing our economy and generating important foreign earning. It has been an important source of liquidity during the recent COVID crisis.
Last year the superannuation system contribute $110 billion to retirement incomes. This compares to $51 billion in pension payments.
The Albanese Government has a plan for superannuation: high-performing, well-governed super funds and a partnership to help grow the economy in the best interests of members.
Indeed, there are many areas where the government can partner with the super funds to advance the national interest.
It would be weird if we didn’t because it’s already been happening for decades.
Super funds are already major investors in assets that earn great money for members and produce huge economic benefits for the community:
- Public transport
- Renewable power
- Low-cost housing
- Affordable aged care accommodation
- Medical research
We need to find new ways to do this.
For example, a recent Deloitte Access Economics report found at least $420 billion in new investment is required to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
This will involve a historic capital reallocation, like when we went from steam power to fossil fuels.
Super funds need this to happen too.
As they grow, they need new investment opportunities.
Our biggest super fund, Australian Super, needs to find a home for $450 million of new capital inflows every week.
The government can also take a leadership role to work with our funds to explore investment opportunities in our region.
For decades, this has been a deliberate part of our trade strategy in other areas.
Government has explored and facilitated new markets for our resources products.
For our agricultural output.
For our universities.
The role of government
There is a critical role for government here when it comes to our super funds as well.
I saw that myself only last week on my trip to Indonesia leading a delegation of 13 super funds.
The delegation had the personal support of Prime Minister Albanese, and that opened a lot of doors.
Our funds don’t invest in Indonesia at the moment.
Yet Canadian, Dutch and the United Arab Emirates pension funds have gone down this path.
It was clear other countries are doing a better job of opening investment doors than we are.
My question isn’t what’s stopping our funds investing in Indonesia today.
It’s what stopped them in the past.
In my home region of the Illawarra, the NSW state government is enthusiastically involved in the reallocation of capital for the public good.
This week it boasted it had attracted $43 billion in potential investment into the Illawarra Renewable Energy Zone.
It designed the zone.
It came up with the projects: wind, solar, hydrogen, batteries.
And then it went and found investors.
This is the kind of thing super funds want to see from governments.
Government can also work to lower barriers to investment.
For example, we will work with the investment community to develop standards to measure, audit and report on sustainability.
Funds want to invest in the transition to clean energy.
Equally, they want to measure the effectiveness of those investments against a standard criterium.
The effective deployment of those investments are central to our clean energy transition, but without agreed reporting and measurement standards, we won’t succeed.
Coalition has short term memory loss
The histrionics we have seen about all this from the Liberal Party is plain weird.
When he was still Prime Minister, Scott Morrison wanted to use super to bail out the airlines and buy AusGrid, all in the national interest.
During the pandemic, the Liberals used super as a $32 billion slush fund to backfill income support.
The former Treasurer drafted legislation that would have given him the sole power to direct super funds’ investments.
It was enough to make Hugo Chavez blush.
Josh Frydenberg putting himself personally in charge of the retirement savings of 16 million Australian workers.
We didn’t agree with doing that then, and we don’t agree with doing that now.
Supercharging our economy with Australian workers’ own savings is smart.
The economic challenges facing our country are enormous.
Wages are down, prices are up, the climate is changing and vital services are under severe strain.
Smart governments look for all available options to solve these problems.
Engaging with our super funds is one way we can work together to do that.