23 February 2023

Address to the Self Managed Super Fund (SMSF) Association Conference


The objective of super


I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people, the traditional custodians of this land, and pay my respects to the Elders past, present and emerging.

I reiterate the Albanese Government’s commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a Voice to Parliament.

I acknowledge any First Nations Australians with us today and thank them for their contribution.

Thank you to John and the team for the invitation to say a few words today in what has been a significant week for superannuation policy in Australia.

On Monday, the Treasurer set out our proposal for a legislated objective of superannuation.

In the spirit of your conference theme, you could say this is our proposal for an objective for the hive.

And it is an important, practical step that we are taking.

It will provide certainty. Simplicity. And Success.

It should be clear to everyone what the purpose of superannuation is. And what we are working towards.

Now, superannuation has been nothing short of transformational in Australia over its thirty-year history.

Since 1992, superannuation has grown from around $148 billion to over $3.3 trillion held by approximately 16 million Australians.

In the self-managed sector, there are over 600,000 funds, holding around $870 billion in retirement savings.

That’s a lot of honey.

It is an Australian story that we can be proud of.

But no public policy can or should be ‘set and forget’.

And there are many opinions on how the super system should be improved.

But how can we have a conversation about the directions if we don’t know the destination? 

With an agreed destination, enshrined by Parliament, we can embark on the journey to a more prosperous retirement for working families.

The objective of superannuation

The coverage of the Treasurer’s announcement has reiterated to me the importance of what we are trying to do in legislating an objective of superannuation.

And I am very grateful that this Association has lent its support.

You have been long advocates in this space and understand the importance of being guided by a nationally agreed upon objective.

Ironically, the confected outrage that has come from some quarters is fed by the lack of an objective.

It is easy to forget that the success of superannuation has been hard fought and at times uncertain.

And the attacks keep coming.

Superannuation for housing.

Superannuation for education.

Superannuation for healthcare.

Like modern-day Edmund Hillarys, they look at the Mount Everest of superannuation and want to raid the retirement incomes of working Australians simply because it is there.

In contrast, we are actually starting from a very simple premise.

Superannuation is for retirement incomes.

The custodians of the superannuation system – the Government, the regulators, the trustees – must be working to improve retirement incomes.

This is about ensuring that Government uses the right tool for the job.

There is no denying that after the last decade, there are plenty of areas that need addressing.

And we are already well under way.

But if the answer is superannuation, the question should only be about retirement incomes.


Once you start from that simple premise, it shines a bright spotlight on some parts of the system.

We are not trying to revolutionise the system, but there are questions to be asked.

I know members here today will be interested in my thoughts on the taxation of superannuation.

It is important to put taxation in the broader context of how the Government supports Australians in retirement – through tax concessions and the cost of the aged pension.

With the Budget under increased pressure to meet the costs of essential services like health age, aged care and the NDIS, we need to consider reforms that put all elements on a more sustainable basis.

To be clear, I am not singling out the self-managed sector for attack.

But it is timely to have a conversation about what a dignified retirement means in the context of a sustainable retirement system.

And we welcome that conversation.

And let’s be honest, what is dignified today is different than what might have been considered dignified thirty years ago.

And it will be different again in another thirty years.

But it seems to me that many people will be able to have a very dignified retirement well into the future with a balance that is significantly lower than $100 million.

And there will be a time and a place to consider how we might sensibly transition so that it minimises unnecessary disruption.

But it is time to have the discussion.

Those who argue for change will need to show how that approach meets the objective.

Early access to superannuation

Similarly, I have spoken out against practices that attack superannuation.

In our proposed objective, we have made it clear that preservation – that is, restricting access until retirement – is fundamental.

This supports retirement incomes.

That is what superannuation is for.

Superannuation is preservation.

The consequences of the pandemic early release of superannuation program will be felt for decades to come.

And like Lucy putting a ball in front of Charlie Brown, the same people want the trust of the Australian people that their superannuation policy is in members’ interests. 

All while suggesting Australians should raid their superannuation to buy a home.

Which, in a supply-constrained, inflationary environment, would be the worst time to do a bad policy.

Now, in exceptional circumstances of genuine hardship, there will remain some flexibility to access funds before retirement.

And this should only be after the government has done everything it can so that people are not left in that circumstance.

But I again start with the simple premise and ask.

Is withdrawing superannuation for cosmetic surgery supporting retirement income? 

Is it really defensible as a use of superannuation? 

Surely on this, we can find common ground.


There is a logical question that comes from an objective that focuses on preservation to deliver retirement income.

What will happen to my money in accumulation? 

This is where I am laser-focused on performance. 

Trustees must be held accountable for their use of member funds.

Every dollar spent must be in the best financial interests of members.

And every investment must meet a performance benchmark.

This is where an objective of super should provide comfort, not panic.

I have seen commentary from some that think we want to tell super funds how to use members’ money.

Far from it. 

We want people to retire with dignity.

There are opportunities for super funds to be a force multiplier in the economy through productivity-enhancing investments.

And we want to work with the sector in areas where members’ interests align with national interests.

With an enshrined objective of super, members and trustees will know that the use of their funds must meet a simple test.

Is it about retirement income? 

Because we want to make sure there is plenty of honey to go around.


And so we are inviting the country to join us in a national conversation about the objective of superannuation.

In this conversation, there will be some things that stick out.

Some things clearly don’t align with the objective of delivering retirement incomes.

But this isn’t lip service and it’s certainly not the start of a Canberra culture war.

It’s about uniting to agree on a true north for superannuation.

Because after 30 years, it’s time for consensus in superannuation policy.

With consensus comes certainty and I think that is what the sector wants more than anything.

Because with consensus, the driver can change, but the destination doesn’t.

Which allows you to do what you do best – maximising retirement incomes.

That’s how an objective of super makes a practical difference.

You could even say that if we get this right, it will help ensure that superannuation is the bees’ knees of public policy.