The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) is investigating payments made to trade unions by superannuation funds, prompted by letters sent to the regulator by Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg.
In March, Senator Andrew Bragg released a statement citing Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) data he collected stating that $12.9 million had been paid from super funds to unions in the 2020/21 financial year, up from $11 million in the previous year. The data was also presented on his twitter profile.
At Senate Estimates, Bragg referenced the data he “manually put together”, leading to APRA executive board member, Margaret Cole, announcing that preliminary investigations into the purpose of the transfers were underway.
“I and my colleagues would like to understand that better, because we're finding it difficult to reconcile some of the information that you have in your tweets with the information that we have so far been able to unearth from the Australian Electoral Commission and from more general inquiries,” said Cole.
“In fact, our analysis suggests that these amounts that are recorded in the register at the AEC are not categorised as political donations as categorised by the AEC.”
Cole said the payments provided and lodged by unions to the Electoral Commission were largely made up of payments made to unions as directors fees which is “fairly typical”.
“I think of the numbers of the size that you are putting out in your tweets. As far as I can see, it's mostly to do with the provision of directors,” Cole told the committee.
Bragg replied: “Well, they are very expensive directors if you cost them at $8 million and $9 million from tiny little funds”.
But according to Cole, “In aggregate, it may not be.”
APRA executive director of superannuation, Suzanne Smith, said the regulator had started to dig into the data by asking funds directly to reconcile the payments, including the directors’ fees.
“We know that there are other payments, such as partnership arrangements and other fees, which will go to things such as member education or some types of health and wellbeing. They are probably the items that you are referring to, Senator Bragg, which aren't specifically for the provision of directors,” Smith said.
“We're wanting to reconcile and look at what some of those amounts are. There are some amounts in there that are curious to us when we go in and say that does look to be an amount that is more significant than we might expect for funds of a particular size.
“We're digging into them. We are as interested as you are in making sure that every dollar of a member that is spent is going to deliver value for them and is going to deliver better outcomes.”