Liberal senators question $40m funds directed to ‘activist’ groups

13 Sep Liberal senators question $40m funds directed to ‘activist’ groups

Joanna Mather – The Australian Financial Review – Friday 13 September
Liberal politicians have taken aim at a community grant provided to a superannuation “activist” group under one of the corporate regulator’s enforceable undertakings.

Super Consumers Australia, which is associated with consumer group Choice, received $2.5 million after ANZ and CBA agreed to make a “community benefit payment” as recompense for the mis-selling of super products.

Victorian senator James Paterson questioned whether the Australian Securities and Investments Commission should be making decisions about how to spend public money, which was the job of Federal Parliament.

“Perhaps its an old fashioned view but I think if there has been a breach of the law, and a penalty has been paid, it should go to consolidated revenue,” he said.

“It should not go to some third-party organisation chosen by ASIC or anyone else.”

ASIC officials appeared before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services chaired by Senator Paterson on Friday.

Post-Hayne, ASIC has abandoned its previous propensity to settle misconduct cases using enforceable undertakings. The regulator also has access to a stronger penalty regime. The committee heard that these developments meant fewer community benefit payments were likely to be made in the future.

The deal that led to funding for Super Consumers Australia was struck in 2018. “Super Consumers Australia might well be an outstanding organisation,” Senator Paterson said.

“But they are advocacy organisation – you might even say they are an activist organisation…I don’t think it’s appropriate for organisations like that to be effectively funded by proxy with public money.”

There has only been one other community benefit payment by ASIC since then – a $15 million grant to the Ecstra Foundation, a non-profit that promotes financial literacy.

NSW senator Andrew Bragg wanted to know what sort of ongoing oversight ASIC would have in relation to “an activist group that purports to represent superannuation victims”.

“[Superannuation] is a sector that is very well represented in this building,” he said.

“There are four or five well funded organisations that purport to represent super consumers. This particular organisation is very flawed, frankly, in its concept and it has concerned me that it has been funded at all.”

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