Interview with David Lipson, ABC 7.30

Share
Transcripts

BRIAN “BRONCO” O’NEILL:

I’m known as Bronco O’Neill but I have never introduced myself as Bronco, only Brian.

DAVID LIPSON:

Hook, line and sinker, Bronco O’Neill’s first love was the sea and at 79 it’s still in his veins.

BRONCO O’NEILL:

We are enjoying our retirement. Our lifestyle is pretty much similar to when I was actually working, yeah, very close to it. We still have the opportunities that we had before financially, yes.

DAVID LIPSON:

He became a seafarer at a time when workers retired with their last pay cheque and little else.

BRONCO O’NEILL:

Older blokes who were retiring went down the gangway with what was called their last pay off, was their retirement fund, and a few bob they had been able to put into the bank prior to it. Many of them were single because that’s the nature of the industry, ended up living in hotels and boarding houses around the waterfront.

ARCHIVE FOOTAGE:

All over the waterfront job meetings are held. These older men must not be thrown on the industrial scrap heap.

DAVID LIPSON:

Long before compulsory superannuation the maritime unions fought a long and bitter campaign to ensure men, aged and broken by the industry, received a decent pension.

ARCHIVE FOOTAGE:

A delegation to Canberra to take their demands to the Federal Government. They only ask for their just rights, a peaceful place in the sun.

DAVID LIPSON:

And from that fight, the nation’s first industry superannuation fund was born: Maritime Super, which this week turns 50.

BRONCO O’NEILL:

We paid $1.35 a week into the fund and the ship owner put $2.70 and I never dreamt at that time that when I retired in 2003 the developments that would take place.

DAVID LIPSON:

A peaceful place in the sun is now the norm.

BRONCO O’NEILL:

That’s my last ship, the Tasman.

DAVID LIPSON:

Not just for Bronco but for all Australians. Now another big change is coming down the gangway.

KELLY O’DWYER:

The system has, in fact, changed from $136 billion of funds under management to now $2.3 trillion of funds under management. It is not a cottage industry anymore and we want to make sure that there is proper transparency and accountability for that money.

DAVID LIPSON:

The changes would further disclose how members’ money is spent, ensure all workers can choose their own funds regardless of enterprise agreements and, most controversially, ensure at least a third of directors in industry super boardrooms are independent, fundamentally changing the decades-old arrangements unions have had with employers where half of all board members are appointed by unions.

KELLY O’DWYER:

It’s actually a recommendation of Jeremy Cooper, who was hand-picked by Labor to conduct a review of the superannuation system many years ago when they were in Government. We’re actually implementing these changes and they apply across the board, whether it is an industry fund, a corporate fund or a retail fund, it applies equally to all of them.

DAVID LIPSON:

There’s more at play than simple transparency and accountability – political fundraising. The Liberal Party is being increasingly outgunned by Labor, highlighted by Malcolm Turnbull ploughing almost $2 million of his own money into last year’s federal campaign. One reason is that industry super funds these days are a nice little earner for unions as well as their members. Unions appoint the board members who then collect directors fees and feed them straight back to the unions. Government sources claim it is worth $8 million a year, a substantial election war chest that’s expected to grow exponentially.

ANDREW BRAGG:

There are basically two sets of laws that allow the money to end up in the union. The first is Fair Work Commission arrangements which send about $10 billion through modern awards into industry super funds each year and then there are very opaque corporate structures and governance arrangements which allow that money to be sent to the union.

DAVID LIPSON:

Andrew Bragg as acting director of the Liberals raised the alarm at this year’s federal council about his party’s capacity to raise funds.

ANDREW BRAGG:

I think the Liberal Party needs to think very carefully about how unlevel the playing field is.

DAVID LIPSON:

He says there’s a good reason industry super funds don’t want independent directors joining their boards.

ANDREW BRAGG:

They simply know that if there are independent directors, the payments they make to their mates in the unions will not be signed off on.

MATTHEW LINDEN:

We see in the banks where they have majority independent directors, they have been incapable of ensuring that those institutions have got the right culture and values and that’s exactly the sort of thing that we need to avoid in superannuation.

DAVID LIPSON:

Industry Super, though, is fighting back hard.

INDUSTRY SUPER ADVERTISEMENT:

The big banks want to get their hands on your super.

MATTHEW LINDEN:

Our concern is it could disrupt and undermine a very successful model that’s delivered incredibly good outcomes for members.

DAVID LIPSON:

Over the past five years industry super funds have, on average, performed better than retail, corporate and public funds – a full two per cent better than funds run by the banks.

MATTHEW LINDEN:

That is around $200,000 extra by the time they retire.

KELLY O’DWYER:

We are simply saying that the framework set up 25 years ago needs to be properly looked at and evaluated and set up to succeed for the next 25 years. These are very sensible, prudent, incremental changes that will improve the performance of even well-performing funds.

JIM CHALMERS:

It is a representative model which has got employees and employers coming together to make decisions about investments in people’s retirement and the Government should be focused on maximising those returns, not on micromanaging the composition of boards.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Funds that have got nothing to hide have got nothing to fear.

DAVID LIPSON:

This is the Coalition’s second attempt at changing superannuation governance. This time around, the reforms are more comprehensive and include increasing powers for the regulator, APRA, and closing loopholes used by unscrupulous employers. It’s hard to argue against greater transparency but gaining support for structural changes to funds that have consistently delivered better returns for members will be a much harder mountain to climb.

JIM CHALMERS:

Superannuation shouldn’t just be, you know, another opportunity for the Turnbull Government to indulge their ideological obsession with attacking unions and workers.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I’m not interested in ideological campaigns. I’m simply wanting to ensure that we have the highest standards apply across the board.

DAVID LIPSON:

50 years ago Bronco O’Neill won his first big superannuation battle and he’s hoping to see this one through as well.

BRONCO O’NEILL:

I am 79, I know I am not immortal. I know I can take some comfort in the fact that if I do fall off the perch, and when I do, that my wife will be adequately covered financially and that’s a comforting fact.