David Gonski has urged industry superannuation funds not to fear the switch to a one-third independent trustee model, and to search for like-minded independents.

The chair of the ANZ Bank and Coca Cola Amatil, and the former chair of the Future Fund, advises superannuation funds instead to spend time choosing the appropriate candidates to serve as independents.

The government’s legislation on superannuation governance will give funds with an equal representation model three years between July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2019 to transition to a board with an independent chair and one-third independent trustees.

The move has been opposed by the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees on the grounds that funds should have the freedom to choose their own board composition if they can show they are successful. The government’s position is that having independents is good practice in maintaining high standards of governance.

“An independent person does not have to be someone against you; in fact I would argue that somebody is not independent if they are violently opposed to what you are doing,” said Gonski. “You should never be scared of them and you should assume they will do the right thing for the whole fund.”

He defined good independents as people who are highly skilled, independent of thought and who would be able to participate and contribute. He added that he thought there were “tons” of good potential independents available for industry funds in Australia.

He also voiced the opinion that while many directors who represented employer or employee bodies could be truly independent of mind, the best person for such a role was an independent director.

“If you are a representative it is very hard to keep your independence of mind, because if you are doing your job by acting as a representative, you actually have a conflict to represent and to be independent. It is much easier for a person to have independence of mind where they genuinely are independent.

“We should be seeking to attract the best people for the job rather than worrying about who they represent.”

David Gonski has been confirmed as a keynote speaker for the Chair Forum at the RACV Healesville Country Club, Victoria, January 31-February 2 for which registrations are now open.



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