Meanwhile, in the clearing system soirée, BT Financial Group’s Alyson Clarke is very concerned about the high costs that the current TFN restrictions [real or imagined] are causing the super industry, and ultimately members. She says that BTFG’s six-month survey of members revealed some alarming figures: • the average Australian has more than three super accounts, • the average consolidation of multiple accounts takes three months, and • a mere 6 per cent of people who try to consolidate actually complete the process. However, the Privacy Commissioner is raising hopes of some movement toward an easier relationship by signalling to Great- Uncle Jeremy that if he allowed the super funds et al to use the TFN for account consolidation and other efficiencies, then the OPC would give qualified support “through limited and clearly articulated use of the TFN … based on the likelihood of strong individual benefits”. Another late entrant, a threeway member administrators’ alliance, has caused a flurry of optimism that funds will be able to simplify transfers between themselves.

This troika – comprised of Australian Administration Services (AAS), Pillar Administration and Superpartners – has agreed on a set of principles and protocols for data and money flow for rollovers. But, some industry veterans are muttering that swimEC [superannuation, wealth and investment management electronic commerce] has been working on such protocols for more than 10 years. Mixed metaphors aside, trying to clarify the use of the TFN for funds consolidation or other efficiencies is a baffling and frustrating exercise, with the interested or reluctantly involved parties all pointing to another as the source of the ambiguities. Most fingers point to the ATO, which then bats the responsibility onto the Privacy Commissioner within the Federal Attorney-General’s Department. Even then, the Privacy Act 1988 guidelines “do not form part of the law and provide interpretive assistance only” [March 2004 annotations]. The notorious Section 2.3 says that “in particular, matching of TFN information is not to be undertaken by … the trustees of superannuation funds for any purpose not authorised by taxation, assistance agency or superannuation law”.

And this last phrase is the Catch-22: fund managers, administrators, and battalions of lawyers err on the side of caution in what is and is not allowed by the various Acts; what is merely an extension of guidelines; and what is a use that actually requires new legislation. However, the Privacy Commissioner signalled, in its Cooper phase 2 submission, that “TFN data-matching by super funds … would amount to an extension of the TFN’s current use, rather than a completely new application”. And this is the ray of hope for which the super industry has been hoping. The Privacy Commissioner’s office then goes on to say that efficiency in the super system would not be opposed “through limited and clearly articulated use of the TFN … Such a proposal should be measured, accompanied by strict privacy safeguards to protect personal information and choice, and be based on the likelihood of strong personal benefits”.

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