It was good to see so many of you at the recent ASFA Conference and I hope you found it entertaining, informative, occasionally confronting, but above all thought-provoking.
Now that Conference is over we look ahead to a Retirement Income Review, the release of APRA’s heatmaps, and the procession of legislation arising from the Royal Commission’s recommendations. Looking at all of this, and not forgetting all the other recent reviews and inquiries, you could be forgiven for concluding that the Australian retirement system was in a terrible condition and desperately in need of rescue.
But of course, this is not the case. We are at the mercy of a false and negative narrative trope, which has gathered strength over time despite there being few facts to support it.
There is an irony in the fact that the Lucky Country always tends to downplay its successes and accentuate the negatives. The Australian superannuation system is greatly admired by people from other countries who are familiar with it. I recently appeared on a panel at a conference in the UK where we were all asked which system we would choose; the other panellists unreservedly chose the Australian system because of the benefits it provides at a relatively low cost and because it does not impose a significant enduring liability on employers.
As we head into 2020, ASFA will continue to fight the false narratives that attach themselves to the Australian super story like barnacles and the national tendency to agree with Hanrahan from John O’Brien’s immortal Australian poem, that ‘we’ll all be rooned’ no matter how propitious the conditions are.
We will continue to point out the successes of the superannuation system: that it is increasingly equitable; that it is affordable; that it provides Australians with a standard of living in retirement that their parents and grandparents would be envious of; the need and the benefits of moving to an SG rate 0f 12 per cent and the fact it provides Australia with a national pool of savings that supports many other economic benefits.
We of course acknowledge that the system is not perfect and we will also continue to promote policies that will make the system even better: getting rid of the $450 per month minimum SG threshold; raising the bar and supporting the orderly resolution of severe habitual underperforming funds; reducing the number of multiple accounts; and promoting other reforms that will make the system more efficient and more equitable, especially for women.
Finally, we will continue to defend the central pillars of the Australian retirement system: its universality and its compulsory nature. Without these two fundamental elements the system would not deliver on its promise and we know what the opposite would deliver – we just have to look to our own past and overseas to see the results.
In short, we will continue to fight the false narratives peddled by the anti-retirement brigade whose basic position seems to be that the old age pension should be the limit of retirement aspiration and that it’s, if anything, too good for many. We need to change the story, from pessimism, false comparisons and worst-case scenarios to a fair, clear-sighted and fact-based narrative. What is generally admired throughout the world should be equally respected at home and that is our fundamental task.