Not unlike a typical edition of ABC’s Q&A, host Tony Jones moderated a robust discussion on yesterday’s Super Q&A panel. Opening CMSF 2013, the panel debated a potential leadership spill in Labor, super reform fatigue and executive pay disclosure.

Perhaps most controversial was the debate on equal representation on boards, with Garry Weaven, chair of Industry Funds Management, raising concerns about a proposed one-third ratio for independent trustees.

Directed at public-offer industry funds only, Weaven called it “an immature act of hostility” from government.

“You hope that… if they do form a government, they would actually have policy related to some sort of data,” Weaven said, adding that the worst performing sector has been left alone, despite its lack of independents.

The definition of “independent” also came under the microscope, with Cate Wood, AIST president and deputy chair of CareSuper, arguing most trustees on super fund boards would already qualify as independent under a corporate definition. However, she said the opposition had an ideological opposition to union representation.

When journalist Stephen Mayne said the industry’s outperformance is more to do with its low-cost, low-fee structure than the quality of trustees appointed by the employer, Ian Silk, AustralianSuper’s CEO, objected, saying the quality of trustees would be scrutinised if performance was poor.

Silk said he was trying to find the rationale for the sector being pursued so zealously.

“The empirical data is not as thin on the ground as people [think], and I must say, as a personal position, I’m not too fussed about it. But the notion that it’s (a) mandated, and (b) would only apply to part of the sector, really goes to the heart of what this issue is. It’s a political argument, it’s not really the government’s argument.”

Both Wood and Silk argued that very little would change for most funds if the rule was implemented.

“In AustralianSuper’s case, for example, the Australian Industry Group nominates the directors,” said Silk, adding that these directors have no relationships with Australian Industry Group whatsoever.

Day 1 newsletter from CMSF 2013

Join the discussion