Ben Fordham: Right now though I want to talk about the growing push to overhaul superannuation. It’s gone largely untouched since being introduced by Paul Keating almost 30 years ago. And the Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg, is one of the leading voices for change, however, when I tried to talk to this man about this subject about a year ago, he was gagged by the Prime Minister’s office, and stopped from coming on air! Well today, he’s with me live in the studio to discuss this topic because he’s released a book about the Super Industry and its called BadEgg. In it he argues, the industry is lining its own pockets at worker’s expense, young people should able to use their superannuation to buy their first home, and industry funds need to distance themselves from the union movement. Andrew Bragg, the Liberal Senator, and author of Bad Egg is with us in the studio, Senator good morning.
Andrew Bragg: G’day Ben, how are you?
Ben Fordham: You haven’t been gagged today.
Andrew Bragg: No, I’m here
Ben Fordham: Is that what you need to do? If you write the book, all of a sudden you can speak freely about a subject. Now listen you say the problem the nation faces on superannuation is that too few of the voices in the debate have clean hands and that the super industry works terribly hard for vested interest, like financial institutions and unions. What have these vested interests done over the years to try and shut you up?
Andrew Bragg: WellI mean Super is supposed to be there for the workers but as I say in the book, it’s very much working hard for the vested interests. When I was working at the Business Council of Australia, for example, the funds tried to get me to stop writing Op-Eds about what they were doing to help themselves and to line their own pockets.
Ben Fordham: So you’d write opinion pieces, questioning the Super system in the newspapers and they would try and shut you down. How would they try and do that?
Andrew Bragg: Well they would write letters to the CEOs of the BCA where I was working and say you’ve gotta get rid of this guy and thankfully Jennifer Westacott, and Grant King who was the President of the BCA, they stuck by me.
Ben Fordham: It just goes to show that?
Andrew Bragg: Good people.
Bend Fordham: Yes, but it also goes to show that these big super funds have got a lot to lose don’t they?
Andrew Bragg: Their tentacles are everywhere.
Ben Fordham: Let’s start with Industry Superfunds. There seems to be a very cozy relationship between Industry Funds, Unions and the Labor Party. We know that it benefits all three in that trio, but are the members being looked after because after all that’s what the workers worry about the most?
Andrew Bragg: Well the key question for super is, is it getting people off the pension? And it’s not. You know over the long run, even out to 2050, most people will still be on the pension. The real question is what is the scheme supposed to be achieving? And what it is doing is enriching union and financial institutions.
Ben Fordham: You make the point as well that some people never get to see any of their super. A lot of people will never see it right?
Andrew Bragg: Well we did some polling for the book and 25% of people never look at their super balance, so there is a huge problem with engagement. So there’s a real set and forget mentality, and that’s very sad, because it is after all, the worker’s money.
Ben Fordham: But a lot of people never get to the age, because they pass away before that time, that they get to access that superannuation.
Andrew Bragg: Yes that also happens, especially in indigenous communities.
Ben Fordham: Let’s talk about the retail funds. They have generally underperformed. Some of these funds have been owned by the big four banks. They were caught charging customers fees for services not provided. That came out in the Royal Commission; some executives did not hide the fact that they put the interests of shareholders ahead of their clients.
Andrew Bragg: WellI mean, the Royal Commission really pulled the pants down of the retail funds, and I think the COVID crisis has really done a number on the industry funds. So reputationally, my hope is Australians will look harder than they were before at what is this scheme for, because 10% of your wages is a lot of money.
Ben Fordham: What should happen to make it a better system for, lets focus on young people first of all, people starting out trying to buy their first home, what kind of rules would you like changed?
Andrew Bragg: WellI think people should be able to get access to their super money to buy a first home. I mean if you can only have one thing, a superfund or a home, I’d rather you had a home.
Ben Fordham: What about transparency in the system when it comes to those relationships between the funds, the union movement and the Labor Party. Because these guys are big political donors now aren’t they?
Andrew Bragg: Huge right! I mean these guys are the biggest donors in town these days, and I think you know if you are a member of one of these funds and your superfund is supporting the CFMEU, you should know. I mean, it should be disclosed on websites and annual reports, so you can actually find out that information. It’s impossible to find this information out.
Ben Fordham: Well what are the other circumstances in which people should be able to access their super early, because we know that we have seen some changes during Coronavirus where people are able to dip into their super if they have extreme needs and there have been examples of that money being spent on alcohol and other things like that. So is that the danger if you’re giving people the freedom to access it early, then they’re not going to put it away for a rainy day?
Andrew Bragg: Most people have accessed Super to pay down debt and save money. It is actually their money, so I think we should after the crisis is passed, look again at extending some of these early access measures; this has been a spectacular success.
Ben Fordham: What about the compulsory super rate, which is supposed to go to 12.5%by 2025, should that happen? Or should it stay where it is: 9.5%?
Andrew Bragg: WellI think it should be flexible, I mean for some people they are better off having more super, and some people should have access to their super for a home. So I think we want to get out of this 1992 mentality in 2020.
Ben Fordham: What kind of reaction are you getting from upstairs? Because as I said and I hope you don’t mind me reminding you about it, when we tried to talk about this a year ago, the PM’s office got wind of it, and they said “No, hang on a moment, this won’t be happening.” So what’s the mood upstairs? Because it’s one thing for a Liberal Senator to hold these views that the system needs refreshing, what’s the boss’ view?
Andrew Bragg: Well I think people are always keen to see new ideas on the table, I mean I’ve tucked my head in for the last little while to write a book and I think people… I have never been told I can’t put forward an idea, in my party.
Ben Fordham: You were just told you couldn’t do it on radio 12 months ago, but anyway, you’re here now and that’s the main thing.
Andrew Bragg: I’m here now.
Ben Fordham: I’m guessing you’re going to cop a bit of blow back from the same people that were trying to silence you when you were writing those opinion pieces for the newspaper. What’s the reaction been so far to Bad Egg?
Andrew Bragg: Well, we’re doing a review into the retirement system, and I think Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer is keen to make sure the Super system works for workers just as I am, so reaction so far has been okay.
Ben Fordham: We’ve got Andrew Bragg in the studio, the Liberal Senator, now if I’m not mistaken, you had COVID-19 sometime ago, you recovered, you’re okay, tell me about the experience of recovering from coronavirus.
Andrew Bragg: I’m okay; I didn’t give it to Mangos, which is good.
Ben Fordham: That good. That’s John Mangos is in the building because he works with you these days. I don’t know how you put up with that, but just tell me about the experience of getting coronavirus, the symptoms, what did you feel? What was the recovery like?
Andrew Bragg: Well I went to a wedding, and I’m never going to go to another wedding again, down atTumbling Waters, and 41 of us got it from someone who imported it from New YorkI think. Look it wasn’t great, I mean it was three weeks on your back pretty much, but you know I’m a busy beaver, so I spent some of that time writing the book.
Ben Fordham: So no lasting effects? You feel just as healthy as you did beforehand?
Andrew Bragg: I’m a bit ugly, but I feel okay.
Ben Fordham: You’re doing alright, well good luck with the book, and good on you for speaking up, and we can only hope that there are some changes coming, because I think most Australians just kind of dip their head or shake their head when the word superannuation is mentioned and there is a lot of money being made by people out there. Thank you so much for your time.
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