Following Bill Shorten’s bombshell announcement on March 18, 2018 regarding the ALP’s intention to disallow franking credits on Australian shares if successful at the 2019 Federal government election, Gold Coast Retirees Inc.’s members voted to create an Advocacy Committee to fight this draconian policy move.
The inaugural meeting of the Advocacy Committee was held on Wednesday, March 28 with Charles Dickson being elected Advocacy Group Chair, supported by Rob Grover, Jim Fountain, David Price, Krys Paszkiewicz and Don Leslie as Committee Members.
Advocacy Committee Formation
This committee’s aim was for Gold Coast Retirees Inc to play a strong role in protecting members’ financial investment interests. It subsequently developed an Advocacy Plan through which issues surrounding the ALP’s proposed policy would be identified and comprehensive defence strategy prepared.
A second committee meeting was held on April 24, by which time we had largely identified the mis-truths and propaganda measures purporting to support the ALP’s policy proposal. The meeting also agreed to contact the SMSF Association and the Australian Shareholders Association to investigate their willingness to share relative advocacy information with GC Retirees Inc.
The next committee meeting on May 15 welcomed Dr Barrie Ritchie. Dr Ritchie, a former Advocacy Manager for the Association of Independent Retirees provided a detailed summary of the politically motivated changes that have impacted superannuation strategies over the past 10 years. The Committee approved our Position Statement in relation to the franking credits issue and also agreed on a broad campaign strategy to be rolled out in the run up to the 2019 Federal election.
To have our voice more widely heard, it was agreed that Gold Coast Retirees Inc. would seek to join an alliance with several National bodies representing the interests of self-funded and partly self-funded retirees. To this end we held discussions with the Self-Managed Superannuation Funds Association, who in turn spoke with the Australian Seniors Ass’n, National Seniors and the Stockbrokers & Financial Adviser’s Ass’n. By June, a formal, not-for-profit national organisation, The Alliance for a Fairer Retirement had been formed. Through its 12 member associations, The Alliance now represents the interests of in excess of 4 million self-funded retirees, rapidly being recognised as a leading national lobby group.
By the Advocacy Committee’s next meeting on June 7 our campaign strategy was fully documented, along with an action plans and timeline for its implementation.
We began our advocacy campaign immediately but following several pre and post-Federal budget interviews with local television and newspaper journalists it became quite apparent that local Gold Coast media had little understanding of the issues involved in franking credit refunds and their potential impact on the Gold Coast’s many thousands of independently-funded retirees. To address this, media briefing papers were prepared and one-on-one meetings arranged with a number of key Gold Coast journalists across all media. These were supported with letters to the editors of both the Gold Coast Bulletin and the Gold Coast Sun.
A direct letter opposing the ALP’s proposed policy was sent to the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten and copied to his shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen. Direct representations were also made to local Members of Federal Parliament. Unfortunately, local ALP candidates declined to enter into any discussion on the issue.
GCRI members were urged to write their own letters to the editors of local newspapers, contact local talk-back radio programs and to embrace social media to object to and continue raising awareness for our campaign to counter the ALP’s franking credits policy.
On August 9, we were fortunate in being able to secure two of Australia’s leading commentators to address our monthly meeting on the topic of franking credits. Matthew Brown, a Partner and Certified Financial Planner with MiQ Private Wealth clearly explained what imputation credits are. Through a selection of case studies our President, Rob Grover clearly demonstrated how many self-funded retirees would be significantly financially disadvantaged should Labor’s policy proposal be implemented.
Then, Noel Whittaker O.A.M., widely acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost authorities on personal finance and investment strategies whose weekly newspaper columns and radio broadcasts reach well over seven million people took the podium to deliver an entertaining, if not cautionary address about the future for our country and its ageing population. He highlighted the fallacies and unfair rationale of Labor’s attack on retirees, as well as the potentially detrimental effect this policy would have on the Australian economy.
All Gold Coast print and electronic media were invited to attend this informative presentation and received comprehensive briefing papers in advance. The Gold Coast Bulletin responded and on a very positive note, local M.P.s Karen Andrews and Bert Van Manen also attended. A detailed briefing paper, outlining the inequities of the policy proposal was forwarded to Bill Shorten, Leader of the A.L.P. and to Chris Bowen, his Shadow Finance Minister on August 29.
By now, the franking credit refunds issue was attracting the attention of mainstream national media. It was interesting to note that an article published in The Australian newspaper on August 17 reported that in a survey of Wilson Asset Management’s own investors 28 per cent of the 3,000 respondents stated that they were Labor supporters, adding additional strength to counter the argument that Labor’s policy would only affect the very wealthy members of our community.
We were fortunate to gain a personal meeting with Bert Van Manen, MP for the northern Gold Coast seat of Forde on October 12. Bert’s seat was one of the most marginal Liberal seats in Australia and the meeting allowed us to provide a more detailed briefing on our objections to Labor’s policy and the reasons for them.
Alliance for a Fairer Retirement
Our advocacy action plan entered a new phase in September as our involvement with the national Alliance for a Fairer Retirement moved into high gear. Following the Alliance’s representation, a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics began a national inquiry into the implications of removing refundable franking credits.
Andrew Green of the Stockbrokers and Financial Advisers Ass’n, together with John Maroney of the Self-Managed Superannuation Fund Association met with P.M. Scott Morrison and Minister for Finance, Matthias Cormann on September 25. Both appeared to be very well briefed on the franking issue and both eagerly awaited receipt of the Standing Economics Committee’s final report. Fortnightly national phone conferences between Alliance members began on September 26 to coordinate the activities of all member associations in the run up to the Federal election.
House of Representatives Economic Committee Inquiry into Implications of Removing Franking Credit Refunds
October also saw work begin on the preparation of our submission to the House of Representatives’ Economic Committee Inquiry into the implications of removing refundable franking credits. Our eleven-page submission was forwarded to the Inquiry on Friday, November 26 and subsequently posted on the Inquiry’s own web site, along with submissions from individuals and associations representing literally hundreds of thousands of people likely to be adversely affected by Labor’s proposed policy. The Alliance also prepared a lengthy and comprehensive submission to the Inquiry on behalf of its member associations.
The Committee’s Inquiry wrapped up at a final public hearing in Canberra on March 26 with well in excess of 2,000 individual and association submissions being made. Its final report to Government, handed down on April 7, 2019 contained a scathing condemnation of Labor’s inequitable and unfair policy
Alliance Summit Meeting
A Summit meeting of all twelve associations represented by The Alliance was held in Sydney on October 30. The aim of the Summit was to provide greater media awareness and understanding of the issues involved and their implications for Australia’s self-funded retirees. Furthermore, it would assist in coordinating their lobbying campaign against Labor’s poorly conceived and researched policy proposal. Politicians from both sides of the House were invited to attend but Labor again declined to participate. National media was quick to pick up on this snub to retirees. Our President, Rob Grover provided valuable input at this meeting. The Summit meeting generated extensive national media coverage of the issue and why the Alliance believed it was an unfair tax grab on retirees’ incomes. Stuart Robert, Member for Fadden (Nerang) and the then Assistant Treasurer attended the Summit and accordingly, was also well briefed on the issue.
In October, Major Australian fund manager, Wilson Asset Management commenced a petition against Labor’s campaign directly contacting its many thousands of investors. By end of November the petition was supported by over 30,000 signatories.
The House of Representatives’ Inquiry into Refunds of Franking Credits, chaired by Tim Wilson MP, began its first public hearings in November. These hearings gave thousands of people from around Australia a unique opportunity to voice their personal concerns directly to the Inquiry’s committee members. By December, there were signs that Labor was beginning to feel the heat, although publicly they were not backing down on their policy. At a local level, Labor’s Federal candidates continued to stonewall all attempts to discuss the issue.
Defenders of Self-Managed Retirees
Prior to Christmas we were approached by a group known as Defenders of Self-Managed Retirees whose advocacy initiatives are not far removed from our own. They sought a meeting with us to ascertain what avenues there may be for mutual cooperation between our two associations. To that end, we met with their National director, Robert Dunning and their Queensland director, Bob Harrison (who is also one of our members). Robert Dunning is a Canberra-based retired senior bureaucrat with access to many strategically well-placed departmental heads and considerable statistical information. It was agreed at our meeting that the ‘Defenders’ would coordinate a retirees’ protest meeting on January 31 at the local hearing by the Senate Economic Inquiry Committee. On their own initiative, around 20 GCRI members participated in this protest meeting.
We were fortunate to have Prof. Deb Ralston, Chair of both The Alliance and the Self-Managed Super Funds Association to address our members on January 16. This meeting was a resounding success, with a total of 171 people in attendance; the largest group we have ever had at one of our meetings. Also in attendance were Bert Van Manen, LNP Member for Forde, along with representatives from each of the other three Gold Coast LNP members. Professor Ralston’s clear explanation of how franking credits work and how damaging the removal of credit refunds would be was picked up by Channel 10, who gave more than five minutes coverage of the event in their state-wide news that evening. This was an important outcome as Chanel 10 reaches a much younger audience than Channels 2, 7 or 9; and they’re the ones we needed to influence. Channel 9 Gold Coast and the Gold Coast Bulletin also covered the event.
By now, our association with the Alliance for a Fairer Retirement was proving to be most beneficial. With access to an incredible amount of highly professional research it emerged that well in excess of one million retirees would be adversely affected by the ALP’s proposed policy to severely restrict franking credit refunds. Furthermore, the majority of these people received only very modest incomes from their shares, self-managed super funds and personal investments.
So, our attention now focussed on demonstrating to Labor’s local candidates the glaring anomalies inherent in the logic used to justify their policy. Case studies prepared by both The Alliance and our own association clearly demonstrated how hundreds of thousands of retirees’ incomes would be adversely affected.
To this end, we arranged a briefing meeting with Des Hardman, the ALP candidate for the marginal electoral seat of Forde, at the Northern end of the Coast. We received a very attentive response from Mr Hardman who could quite clearly see and understand our point of view. He agreed that the policy did have glaring anomalies and undertook to take our case studies to the policy makers within the party.
Taking Our Concerns to Canberra
On Wednesday, February 20, I participated in a Forum arranged by the Alliance for a Fairer Retirement and held at Parliament House, Canberra. The Forum was chaired by Senator Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Treasury & Finance with Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg and media also in attendance.
Approximately 30 people were present including representatives from several Alliance member organisations with ACT branches. Prior to the commencement of the Forum I had the opportunity to personally discuss our submission and our members’ concerns over Labor’s proposed franking credit legislation with both the Senator and the Treasurer. Both demonstrated a very comprehensive understanding of the difficulties the policy would impose on SMSFs and retirees in general. The Treasurer was particularly appreciative of the fact that the Gold Coast Retirees Association had sent a representative to attend the Forum. It did not go unnoticed. Channel 2 News and the Australian Financial Review subsequently covered the proceedings.
Well, we did it!!!
The Federal Election, held on May 18 was tipped to be an easy win for Labor. But we beat the pollsters and media pundits and showed Australia that collectively, retirees are a force to be reckoned with; that we’re no longer easy targets for successive political parties and governments to manipulate to suit their own ends. The Liberals were returned to office with an increased majority and franking credits refunds were retained.
Queensland Government Inquiry into Voluntary Euthanasia
On an entirely different matter,in the final run-up to the Federal election the Advocacy Committee completed a detailed submission to the Queensland State Government’s Inquiry into Voluntary Assisted Dying (Euthanasia). This submission, largely compiled by committee member Jim Fountain, incorporated eleven personal case studies supplied by our members. It was forwarded to the Inquiry on April 4. In all, over 2,000 submissions were received by the Inquiry and we look forward to receiving further communication regarding this important policy issue.
There’s still much to be done to ensure that Australia’s self-funded retirees continue to receive a fair retirement income. Since its inception, The Alliance has been at pains to promote the fact that it remains committed to achieving taxation goals that are adequate, fair, certain and sustainable for all. Following the election, the Federal Government announced a Productivity Commission Inquiry into Retirement Incomes. The Inquiry is likely to address age pensions, superannuation and personal savings. In an endeavour to influence its Terms of Reference, The Alliance prepared and forwarded a detailed submission containing recommendations to Treasure Josh Frydenberg and Sen. Jane Hume, Assistant Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and Financial Technology. Recommendations focused on broadening the scope of how superannuation, retirement income, age pension and the overall tax system should be comprehensively reformed. To date, there is no indication as to when this Inquiry will commence but we’ll keep you informed as events unfold.
On a different note, the Advocacy Committee is continuing to explore opportunities through which our association can further influence public opinion. To this end, in June we met with Gerard Benedet, National Director of Advance Australia. Broadly speaking, Advance Australia is an active lobby group representing the views of mainstream Australia that is independent of all political parties, religious organisations or institutions, unions and or business. In the run up to the Federal Election, Advance Australia mounted a strong and successful ‘Hands Off Our Superannuation’ campaign in several marginal electorates throughout Australia.
And through The Alliance, we will be exploring avenues through which we can liaise with other associations and bodies having broadly similar objectives to those of our own. In the weeks to come The Alliance will be meeting with representatives from The Council for The Ageing (COTA), the Actuaries Institute and the Grattan Institute, who have each expressed interest in being more involved with The Alliance.
There is no doubt that current deeming rates and the way in which an environment of extremely low interest rates is adversely affecting retirees living standards will be among agenda items for action during this coming year.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on how saddened we were when our committee member David Price passed away suddenly in March. David’s input to our committee was greatly appreciated and his wisdom is missed. I would also like to acknowledge Don Leslie’s and Krys Paszkiewicz ‘s valuable input to the Committee and to thank Helen Bell for agreeing to replace Krys following his resignation. Thanks also to Rob Grover and Jim Fountain, without whose valuable assistance we could not have achieved so much in such a short period of time and with such limited resources.
Chair, GC Retirees Advocacy Group