Misha Schubert

Super Members Council chief executive Misha Schubert says the profit-to-member super sector has achieved unity as it gears up for policy debates likely to take centre-stage at the next election. 

“There’s a really clear-eyed vision that lies behind the creation of the Super Members Council and that’s to ensure the more than 11 million Australians everyday people who have their retirement savings invested in profit-to-member super funds have a clear and unified voice into the policymaking processes of our country,” Schubert tells Investment Magazine, in one of her first interviews since taking the reins of the new association, which was established after the merger of Industry Super Australia (ISA) and the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) last year.  

That focus on the member is personal for Schubert, who says compulsory super should be seen as one of Australia’s crowning policy achievements and that she was attracted to the role in order to have a positive influence over the economic reality of regular workers. 

“I think about the circumstances of my maternal grandmother, who raised four girls in the post-war period, in very, very modest financial circumstances on the far west coast of South Australia,” Schubert reveals.  

“She was a remarkable woman, but her life circumstances could have been profoundly different if superannuation had existed in that era.” 

‘Guiding north star’

She describes the memory as a “guiding north star” that will no doubt provide some solace in a heated policy environment in which there is major disagreement on superannuation settings among the two sides of mainstream Australian politics.  

While the Albanese government has moved to legislate an objective for super that “preserves” its role as a vehicle for retirement savings, the opposition will take to the next election its flagship policy to allow people to draw down on super to buy a first home. Following the previous government’s early release scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic, it builds on a more “flexible” vision for super espoused by the Coalition. 

In the first major media campaign initiated under Schubert’s tenure, the SMC released economic modelling questioning the Coalition’s super for housing idea and arguing it would be counter-productive, leading to a median house price increase across capital cities of $75,000. 

She signals the council’s alignment with the government’s approach, arguing that “everyday Australians have a really clear sense of understanding what super is for: money for retirement”.  

In the same breath, however, Schubert says the council “has and will continue to have excellent relationships across the breadth of the Parliament” – relationships she says she has cultivated over a career as a reporter for the former Fairfax newspapers in the federal press gallery, and subsequently as a lobbyist and association chief in the education, science and technology sectors.  

The pledge to work with both sides of the aisle also comes despite the historic and commercial ties between much of the SMC’s membership and the labour and trade union movement, including the federal Labor Party. The council’s 12-person board includes three former federal Labor ministers in Hesta chair Nicola Roxon, Cbus chair Wayne Swan and TWUSuper chair Nick Sherry, as well as Australian Council of Trade Union secretary Sally McManus and AustralianSuper chair Don Russell, a former adviser to Prime Minister Paul Keating. 

One of those

Schubert says the new organisation she leads will aim to honour the legacy of both its predecessor organisations.

It will lean into policy formulation and lobbying, which ISA was known for, as well as continuing to offer AIST’s trustee directors course. It is still unclear whether SMC will hold major conferences, which were previously a source of funding for AIST. 

It is unclear also how the valuable Industry SuperFunds brand, made a household name through a series of TV advertising campaigns over many years, will interplay with the new and broader council. The brand is owned by eight funds – AustralianSuper, Cbus, Hostplus, Hesta, Spirit Super, CareSuper, TWUSuper and First Super – who are now part of the broader council alongside other profit-to-member funds like UniSuper, Aware Super and Australian Retirement Trust.  

Some industry sources have suggested the ownership of the Industry SuperFunds brand could be a thorn in the side for the council, given it may retain supremacy of focus and resources for some members.  

Asked about the dynamic, Schubert says: “I wouldn’t want to be drawn on other entities or organisations [but] what I have observed is there is there is a really powerful sense of unity across the profit-to-member super sector, and that resolute focus on how we advance the interests of those every day, 11 million everyday Australians for whom we speak.” 

Schubert declines to comment also on the overlapping mission between the council and ASFA, which claims to be the peak body for the broader superannuation industry but has a membership that more closely resembles SMC’s after a number of major for-profit retail funds left the association, as first reported by Investment Magazine. 

Two peak bodies 

A key factor in the resignation of these funds from ASFA’s membership was consideration of the best financial interests duty, and a belief by some trustees that it was no longer appropriate (or perhaps even compliant) to retain membership of multiple associations with overlapping briefs or benefits. 

While Schubert won’t comment on a competitor, she says the council’s competitive advantage is in its data modelling capabilities, which will underpin an “evidence-based” approach to policy formulation. 

She lists financial advice and retirement as key policy priorities for the council, urging the government to fast-track the Delivering Better Financial Outcomes legislation enacting the recommendations of the Quality of Advice Review. 

The government’s bill containing the so-called stream one of the reforms has been plagued by drafting issues, including placing a heavy burden on trustees to ensure every piece of advice delivered to fund members relates wholly or in part to their interest in the fund, and what proportion of an advice fee can be legitimately deducted. This approach has been questioned by Aware Super and the Joint Associations Working Group (JAWG), among other critics. 

But Schubert says the council is confident provisions relating to fee deductions and the broader legislative package can be worked through with haste. 

“We really want cool heads in this discussion,” she says. 

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