Malcolm Turnbull’s recent Washington visit was mostly summarised in the media by his repeated use of the term ‘mates’, and comments on the Barnaby Joyce scandal. However, it was the little reported on delegation of 20 Australian business leaders that caught my attention.
It was a long line of varied and distinguished delegates, which ranged from media mogul Kerry Stokes to golfer Greg Norman, and from Commonwealth Bank Chief Ian Narev to Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford. All vying for a handshake with President Trump, First Lady Melania and Vice-President Pence.
Although, it wasn’t just a photo opportunity they had come half way around the world for. Trumps recent $US 1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal, has raised the heads of many astute business leaders, all eyeing an opportunity for considerable return on investment. Business looking for investment of course is nothing new; however what stood out about this was the apparent source was to come from Australian Superannuation Funds.
As of 2017, Australian’s have $2.5 trillion in superannuation assets, making Australia the 4th largest holder of pension fund assets in the world. This total is projected to double to $4 trillion in the next 10 years, and reach $9.5 trillion by 2035.
Whilst this vast pool of money continues to grow ever greater, so to has the discourse on what to do with it. With the old adage of ‘your super, your money’ championed by both Australian treasure’s Joe Hockey and Scott Morrison. This has now been quietly replaced with the new term ‘Australian super, Australian money’.
Whilst many funds have championed the exclusion of mining, gambling and tobacco for years as fund managers begin to realise their increasing power. Only now, are they staring to broach guidelines around politically motivated investments.
There have already been some notable exclusions. Such as, the recent ‘Dump Trump’ campaign, enabled through the ever increasing personalisation of superannuation. As this technology progresses, so too will the potential for even greater investment selectivity. Possibly to the point where a single viral tweet, could effectively wipe out a selected superannuation funded investment.
Whilst many would argue it is their right, to choose where their superannuation dollars are invested. We must be careful, to avoid getting to a point where key government projects and policies become beholden to vigilante stances.