Bill Shorten wants a national debate about the future of the superannuation industry, but he wants it to be focused on how it can better invest in high-end infrastructure needs.
Addressing the Industry Super Australia conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday night, the Opposition Leader said he didn’t want the national debate to be dominated by a handful of “very wealthy individuals” arguing over how much largesse is too much.
“I most certainly want Australia to have a national conversation about the future of superannuation,” he said.
“(But) the conversation we ought to be having about super is about how we prepare the system for an Australia which will soon be home to five million people over the age of 65.
“The conversation we ought to be having is how we clear away the blockages and impediments that prevent superannuation funds from investing in high-quality, productivity-boosting, nation-building infrastructure that creates good jobs.”
Mr Shorten, who was the keynote speaker, urged his audience to insist that their publicly-elected representatives take a visionary approach to super investment.
Superannuation investment, he said, was more than satisfying the needs of an election cycle.
“Let’s extend ourselves a little bit,” he said.
“Let’s look beyond the next election and focus on the next generation.”
Pointing to the recent purchase of Ausgrid by IFM and Australian Super as an example of the power of super to develop much-needed infrastructure – similar to the Port of Melbourne – Mr Shorten said more of that type of investment was needed for Australia’s future.
“Not just investment in infrastructure but greater investment in private equity, to help build the companies and jobs of tomorrow,” he said.
“And greater investment in affordable housing and other ‘impact investing’ – providing good returns for members and contributing to a more just society.
“The conversation we ought to be having about super is how we address the massive gender gap in retirement savings.
“If we stay true to that promise, if we keep faith with that ideal, then we’ll be much better placed for the challenges that lie ahead.”
The Opposition Leader wound up his address with a long and aggressive defence of industry super funds, saying the government needed to get beyond the “not-for-profit” treatment of them.
He said every city and town across the country already felt the presence of industry funds investment.
“We need industry funds to stand up for themselves as well,” Mr Shorten said.
“I have no doubts there are challenges for the funds and how they communicate them to their members … but you have a fantastic story to tell.”
He said the government needed to realise that super industry funds were “not just something to be tolerated, but something to be treated with the same respect as other financial institutions in this country”.
*The New Daily is owned by industry super funds.