The first superannuation funds began shortly before Australia became a nation when New South Wales began a pension of £26 a year culled from the state’s general revenue; Victoria and Queensland soon did likewise. For a long time superannuation was available only to a small number of people, but over the past century they have evolved to become accessible to all Australians. Now everyone can benefit from them in life and in retirement more than ever before. Industry super funds played a pivotal role in bringing about this fundamental shift.
Unions in the 1970s began to demand that employers be required to contribute to their workers’ superannuation funds. Prior to that time, only 39%of Australians had super funds, and these lucky few were wealthy, white collar workers like upper and middle-level managers or public servants. While a few blue collar professions in the 60s and 70s were able to procure super funds for themselves, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the law began to change.
In 1986, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) successfully fought for the National Wage Case, and it became mandatory for a superannuation contribution of up to three percent by employers to employees who are covered by an Award. The ACTU fought for other terms with regards to super funds: they wanted the opportunity for employees to be trustees of super funds, for the employee’s ability to take the super with them should they change jobs or leave the job before retirement, and the availability of life insurance to be purchased through one’s super.
Then in 1992, the Superannuation Guarantee was put into place by the Keating Government, making it mandatory that all employers contribute to their employees’ superannuation fund if they earned more than $450 a week and were between the ages of 18 and 65. It also provided for a gradual increase in the minimum percentage employers can contribute, leveling off at 9% in 2002.
In 1997, the Government amended the upper age limit to 70, increasing the amount Australians can stow away in their superannuation funds and encouraging people to work longer. New legislation has meant that beginning in 2005; employees had the freedom to choose which super to be a member of.
The ACTU continues to push for improvements in superannuation funds for all Australians. The union body is arguing in favor of an increase of the minimum superannuation rate from the current 9% to 12% by 2012 and to 15% by 2015.
Australians are better prepared for their retirement than ever before, but that doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. Inflation, extended life expectancy, and improvements in health care means Australians will need more money to live on after they retire than in the last century. Michael Dwyer of First State Super told The Australian in March 2010 that a retirement coffer of about $660,000 for a couple and $460,000 for an individual is what is required to live comfortably, and that most people’s superannuation funds when they retire will fall short of these figures. Those making between $40,000 and $120,000 a year are most at risk for retiring without a large enough nest egg.
These worrying statistics makes it all the more important for you to choose the right super fund so that you are getting the most you possibly can in returns. Recent statistics confirm that industry super funds on average give you higher returns than their retail counterparts.