Misha Schubert

Misha Schubert, the inaugural CEO of the new Super Members Council, says her members are willing and able to provide more “low and no cost advice” to millions of Australian workers if the Quality of Advice Review recommendations are implemented.

In one of her first interviews since taking the powerful role in February, Schubert tells Professional Planner financial advice and retirement are among the top policy agenda priorities of the council, which was established by the merger of Industry Super Australia and the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees last year.

“We want to see all three tranches of that financial advice legislation fast-tracked this year – these reforms are too important to wait,” Schubert says.

“Trustees are very focused on trying to ensure that we seize this historic moment to expand the access for everyday Australians to low cost/no cost advice, and we’re confident that people can work through the detail of these three important tranches of legislation to ensure that, as a country, we can expand that advice.”

Schubert says the reforms should be legislated at the “fastest possible pace”. But their passage has arguably been delayed by multiple drafting and policy formulation errors, such as the accidental omission of general advice providers from an exemption on receiving conflicted remuneration and concerns raised over the process by which advice fees would be compliantly deducted under the law as drafted.

‘Cool heads’

Asked to comment on the debacle, criticism of which was voiced by SMC member Aware Super, Schubert says she believes the reforms can still be expedited smoothly by the government.

“We’re confident with good intentions [stakeholders] can work through any concerns or requests for clarification swiftly and ensure we fast-track these important reforms for the country,” she says. “We really want cool heads in this discussion.”

The council is expected to hold some sway with the federal government given its board features a line-up of Labor luminaries.

Cbus chair and former treasurer Wayne Swan, Hesta chair and former health minister Nicola Roxon and TWUSuper chair and former assistant treasurer Nick Sherry all have seats on the board, alongside union boss Sally McManus and AustralianSuper chair Don Russell, a former adviser to Prime Minister Paul Keating.

But notwithstanding the interpersonal and historic ties to the labour movement, the council will seek to work closely with both sides of politics, Schubert says.

“We have and will continue to have excellent relationships across the breadth of the Parliament. I have always approached leadership roles in policy organisations with that clear eyed understanding about the importance of strong relationships across the breadth of the Parliament,” says Schubert who worked as a reporter for the former Fairfax newspapers in the federal press gallery before working as a lobbyist and association chief in the education, science and technology sectors.

At the same time, Schubert makes clear the council supports the principle of preservation and says everyday Australians know their super is “money for retirement” in a thinly veiled rebuke of the opposition’s policy allowing people to draw on their super to buy a first home.

In the first major media campaign initiated under Schubert’s tenure, the SMC released economic modelling questioning the Coalition’s super for housing idea and arguing it would be counter-productive, leading to a median house price increase across capital cities of $75,000.

One of those

It is understood the council will operate entirely independently of the valuable Industry SuperFunds brand, made a household name through a series of controversial TV advertising campaigns over many years.

Some industry sources have suggested the ownership of the Industry SuperFunds brand could be a thorn in the side for the council, given it may retain supremacy of focus and resources for some members.

Asked about the dynamic, Schubert says: “I wouldn’t want to be drawn on other entities or organisations [but] what I have observed is there is there is a really powerful sense of unity across the profit-to-member super sector, and that resolute focus on how we advance the interests of those every day, 11 million everyday Australians for whom we speak”.

She acknowledges the council’s own operations were ultimately funded from retirement savings of workers and says everything the council does will be “in and for the best financial interests of members”.

Asked what attracted her to the hotly contested super policy space, Schubert says the motivation was partly personal.

“I think about the circumstances of my maternal grandmother, who raised four girls in the post-war period, in very, very modest financial circumstances on the far west coast of South Australia,” Schubert says.

“She was a remarkable woman, but her life circumstances could have been profoundly different if superannuation had existed in that era.”