Unionist vows no retreat on IR super activism

05 Mar Unionist vows no retreat on IR super activism

Michael Roddan and Andrew White — The Australian — 5 March 2019

Transport Workers Union nat­ional secretary Michael Kaine has pledged to pressure superannuation funds to pursue companies over workplace standards, attacking a move by Josh Frydenberg to seek new regulatory powers to block union activism in the ­nation’s $2.7 trillion retirement savings system.

Writing to the Treasurer yesterday after Mr Frydenberg asked the prudential regulator whether it had the powers to ensure union-appointed super trustees did not pursue political objectives at the expense of members’ interests, Mr Kaine said driving better workplace standards was “not ­financial activism”.

“We must dispense with the idea that working people want their retirement savings subsidised by stealing from workers in the companies in which they are invested,” he said. “The truth is that higher wages and decent employment security are the best friend of a healthy superannuation system.”

The intervention by the TWU came despite senior figures in the union and employer-backed industry fund sector distancing themselves from the rise of industrial relations activism by unions in the super sector.

Heather Ridout, the chairwoman of the country’s biggest industry fund, the $140 billion AustralianSuper, yesterday ruled out her fund, which has board ­directors appointed by the ACTU, from using its financial clout to influence industrial relations in the companies it invested in.

“We will not be dragged into industrial relations,” she said.

But she said AustralianSuper had met with BHP to discuss its Samarco disaster in Brazil, where a tailings dam collapsed killing more than a dozen people, and its use of tax minimisation. She said the fund probably discussed industrial relations with the company.

“We have got very comfortable with BHP and in fact (chief executive) Andrew Mackenzie came to our board — that is the best approach and it has worked for AustralianSuper,” Ms Ridout told

AustralianSuper recently joined forces with a group of large investors known as Climate Action 100+ to force global commodities powerhouse Glencore to limit coal production.

Ms Ridout accused the government of being anti-union and trying to drag the retirement savings sector into a political debate, when it should enjoy bipartisan support.

“I think, frankly, the government doesn’t like trade unions, and it’s antithetical to everything that they believe in that the union movement would have some influence, a degree of influence, over a very sizeable, trillion dollars in assets,” Ms Ridout said.

“But you have to trust the governance model, you have to trust the ethics, and integrity, you have to trust the regulators.”

Mr Frydenberg wrote to Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman Wayne Byres after the ACTU backed the Maritime Union of Australia’s high-profile campaign for industry funds to pressure BHP and BlueScope Steel into reversing a contentious decision not to renew a legacy contract for two Australian-crewed vessels.

Liberal senator James Paterson told The Australian the retirement incomes of workers should “not be hijacked by the political agendas of militant unionists”. “Heather Ridout failed to stand up for her members’ interests when she supported the carbon tax while running the Australian Industry Group. She shouldn’t make the same mistake twice by failing to uphold her legal obligation to represent the interests of AustralianSuper members,” he said.

ANZ chairman David Gonski backed a call by Industry Super Australia chairman and former Labor MP Greg Combet for companies to focus more on environmental, social and governance issues and long-term values instead of short-term profits. “I find AustralianSuper an excellent shareholder,” he said. “You have first-rate people who do their homework before they come in.


This article was originally published in The Australian

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