The theme of this month’s Conference of Major Superannuation Funds (CMSF) is ‘Super: Shaping the Nation for the Future’, and while the adequacy of Australians’ retirement incomes is sure to come up for discussion, the part of our future which depends on decent economic and social infrastructure will also be debated. A big plenary session at the conference will be “To Build A Nation”, where proponents of key pieces in the nation-building puzzle – Industry Funds Management chair Garry Weaven; National Housing Affordability Summit chair Julian Disney; Professional Visiting Fellow at the Climate Change Research Centre within the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Frank Muller and Allen Consulting Group water expert, Mark Burford – will discuss how super funds can become more involved. Over the following pages of our cover story, Investment & Technology will talk to these and other stakeholders about how nation-building projects can make an investment case beyond their obvious patriotic appeal.
Garry Weaven agrees that Australia’s superannuation funds are not investing enough by way of economic, nation-building projects – but it’s not the superannuation funds he blames. “There just hasn’t been all that much in terms of nation-building opportunities to date, with the exception of thing like your standard toll roads – which I guess are addressing our transport deficit, but are somewhat unexciting,” he says.
The creation of nation-building opportunities is dependent on government, Weaven believes, sometimes for subsidies but always for bravery and imagination. “What we need is more politicians who want to do more than be a backside on a seat, who want to leave something of lasting benefit and are prepared to put their political lives on the line to do so,” he says.
The extent of the sacrifice and bravery sometimes required is exemplified by the “whole debacle” around attempts to improve the amenity of Victoria’s ports, culminating in the controversy last month over Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett’s approval of a dredging trial in Port Phillip Bay. “Look at the crap that governments have had to go through to widen the channels…There’s crowds of people here in Melbourne protesting outside Parliament House, The Age has had a tirade against it every day without necessarily knowing all the facts.”
Weaven understands that truly nation-building infrastructure projects can’t be afraid to upset some sensibilities. For example, notwithstanding all the pioneering work that major IFM asset Pacific Hydro has done in developing alternative energy sources, Weaven is quite happy to talk about IFM’s work in boosting the capacity of the railway line that will link the planned coal mines in Queensland’s Surat Basin to the Port of Gladstone.