From 1 July 2005, changes to Commonwealth legislation allowed Australian employees (with some exceptions) to choose the fund into which their employers paid their superannuation. In turn, industry super funds were no longer industry specific and most became not-for-profit public offer funds, open to the majority of workers in Australia.
Despite choice of fund being an option for most Australian workers, most workers (over 75%) stick with the default fund their employer chooses, which is more often than not an Industry super fund.
The independent industrial relations umpire, the Fair Work Commission, nominates super funds that are suitable to be adopted by employers as default funds. Traditionally the funds nominated by the Fair Work Commission suitable as default funds are not-for-profit funds.
The four major banks in Australia own the majority of for-profit retail super funds and have been lobbying governments for legislative change to de-regulate the process traditionally used to nominate workplace default funds and make it easier for employers to adopt a bank-owned fund.
The Federal Abbott government has committed to opening up the default fund section system suggesting that doing so will generate greater competition.
Industry super funds are membership-based and do not have shareholders. In this aspect, they differ from retail funds (or wholesale master trusts) which are public offer funds managed by financial institutions, with the aim of returning dividends to shareholders.
History of Industry Super Funds
Prior to 1992, superannuation was common, however there existed no national legislative requirement for employers to pay superannuation for their employees. Instead, industrial awards negotiated by the union movement sought to compel businesses to contribute to superannuation funds for and on behalf of their staff. This system was not uniform, and superannuation policies were tied to individual awards, with the potential to differ from industry to industry.
In 1992, the Keating Labor government introduced a compulsory ‘Superannuation Guarantee’ system as part of a major reform package to help relieve the growing burden on the taxpayer-funded government pension scheme. The change came about through a tripartite agreement between the government, employers and the trade unions. The trade unions agreed to forgo a national 3% pay increase which would be put into the new superannuation system for all employees in Australia. This was matched by employers' contributions which were set to increase over time.
Both union and employer organisations were keen to ensure that money invested into superannuation would be protected from high fees and commission products. This led to the establishment of trade union-based industry super funds, in competition to the established retail funds.
Today, industry funds are non-profit mutual funds with over 13 million accounts. Industry super funds have policies designed for the benefit of members, and governed by trustees representing employers and employees within the industry.
Industry Super Australia
Industry Super Australia (ISA) is an umbrella organisation for the industry super movement. ISA manages collective projects on behalf of fifteen industry super funds. These projects include research, policy development, government relations and advocacy, as well as coordinating the Industry SuperFunds Joint Marketing Campaign.
All members of ISA are not-for-profit industry super funds, but not all industry super funds in Australia are members of ISA. The funds that are members of ISA hold nearly 6 million accounts.
The current Board of ISA comprises thirteen members and includes representatives from industry super funds, as well as former state and federal ministers and Premiers.
The Industry SuperFunds Joint Marketing Campaign is responsible for a number of prominent advertising and marketing campaigns on behalf of its membership including the long-running “Compare the Pair” television and press campaign.
Submissions and Representations
Since ISA’s inception, it has made submissions to government on a number of superannuation-related topics including:
- The Murray Inquiry (2014) into Australia’s financial systems, with particular reference to superannuation
- The Cooper Review (2010) into the superannuation system and regulatory improvements
- The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs covering the proposed tightening of pension eligibility
- The Trowbridge Review into potential conflicted remuneration and its effect on life insurance advice
- The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Systems Inquiry
- The Senate Economics Legislation Committee review for streamlining the Future of Financial Advice Bill
- "Financial System Inquiry". fsi.gov.au. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- "Review into the Governance, Efficiency, Structure and Operation of Australia's Superannuation System". www.supersystemreview.gov.au. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- "Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs – Parliament of Australia". www.aph.gov.au. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- "Trowbridge Report" (PDF). Financial Services Council.
- "Senate Economics Legislation Committee – Parliament of Australia". www.aph.gov.au. Retrieved 2015-08-21.