Was it a “technical error” or a “dirty secret” that casts a campaign against industry super funds in a new light?
By Stephen Long
Last month, the chairman of Industry Super Australia, former NSW Liberal Party leader Peter Collins, wrote to the Business Council of Australia’s (BCA) members accusing one of the BCA staff, former Liberal Party director Andrew Bragg (pictured), of promulgating “propaganda” against the industry funds.
Mr Collins’ letter described allegations by Mr Bragg that industry funds were bankrolling unions as “misleading and inaccurate” and “akin to party political propaganda”.
“We would appreciate your assurance that it will not continue,” Mr Collins wrote.
The response from the BCA was high-dudgeon.
“I think that’s really inappropriate to put pressure on us to silence him,” the BCA’s chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, told The Australian.
“That’s not the way we should run free speech in this country.”
Mr Bragg was expressing “his own views” and “entitled to have an opinion”, she said.
Former BCA president Tony Shepherd said it was an unbelievable attack on free speech and Mr Bragg was “speaking on his own behalf”.
There’s just one catch — the BCA has played host to an online campaign Mr Bragg is waging against industry super funds.
Mr Bragg’s site Supercheck purports that unions are siphoning money out of the not-for-profit industry funds.
It includes a widget, or tool, that allows users to “check out how much money your super fund is paying to unions”.
Although it appears on Mr Bragg’s personal blog, the source code revealed this tool was in fact hosted on an external website, For The Common Good — a Business Council of Australia political campaign website that advocates “lower taxes” and “less regulation”.
That was until last Friday, when the ABC contacted the BCA to ask why it was hosting Mr Bragg’s campaign after publicly claiming these were his “personal views” and did not represent those of the BCA.
It was hastily removed, and a BCA spokesperson said “a technical error” had led to it being hosted on the For the Common Good server.
“We have no views on the Supercheck widget,” the spokesperson said.
Bragg’s views ‘expressed in personal capacity’
It’s not the first external campaigning site to play host to Mr Bragg’s tool.
Supercheck was previously hosted by the now defunct Liberal Party campaign page thefairgo.com when Mr Bragg was the Liberal Party’s acting federal director.
Within the industry fund sector, the discovery that the BCA was hosting Mr Bragg’s campaign against industry funds has provoked outrage.
The super myth about retirement
“We were completely shocked to find out that the BCA was hosting this campaign of disinformation,” Mr Collins told the ABC.
“The information we received after raising concerns with the BCA in no way disclosed that they actually host the offending website.
“People will hold different views and can express those views; the question is who gives their imprimatur to those views.”
Mr Bragg has argued for some time accused industry super funds are funnelling millions of dollars to unions.
“This is precisely the great dirty secret of financial services — over the past decade industry super has sent over $50 million of workers’ retirement savings to support affiliated trade unions,” his blog claims.
However, much of the money he refers to consists of fees paid to union officials or officers serving as superannuation fund trustees, who choose to forgo the remuneration and pass it on to the union under long-standing custom and practice.
Industry funds also pay unions and employer associations to market their super funds to workers and argue it is money well spent.
“I’m an independent director on Hostplus,” Mr Collins said.
“We pay more money to the Australian Hotels Association than we pay to the union United Voice; but in both cases, it’s effective use of money to market our services to workers in the industry.”
The BCA continues to maintain that Mr Bragg’s “well-known, long-held views on superannuation” are “expressed in a personal capacity”.
There was no explanation about how the “technical error” that led to his Supercheck widget being web-hosted by the Business Council’s political campaigning site occurred.
First published at the ABC. Monday 9 July 2018.