Rivers of gold: how the trade union movement is funded by industry super

Superannuation Financial services industry Governance Unions Governance of superannuation funds Australia
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The Australian superannuation industry is a financial titan. With over $2 trillion in total superannuation assets it represents one of the largest financial sub-sectors in the country.

Industry superannuation funds combined manage more than $466 billion in assets. Industry superannuation funds have a peculiar model of administration involving board members that are nominated in their capacity as employer or employee representatives.

Our research has examined the annual reports of industry funds to collate the fees paid to board members, and to determine whether and how much money is paid in the form of directors’ fees to third party organisations.

Our analysis highlights the significant sums of money that flow, via directors’ fees, from industry superannuation funds directly to trade unions. Between the 2013-14 and 2016-17 financial years, trade unions received $18,438,516 (in 2017 dollar terms). By comparison, employer or industry groups received $2,076,756, while other third parties received $5,633,099.

The top 5 biggest union recipients were:

• Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) – $2,884,168

• United Voice – $2,386,164

• Australian Council of Trade Unions – $2,050,363

• Australian Workers Union (AWU) – $1,796,158

• Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) – $1,495,898

This report highlights the need for reform to the superannuation system to ensure that governance structures are such that fund members’ interests are protected.

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