Raising a glass to Mavis and all the other women in super


Mavis Robertson, the founder of Women in Super, CMSF, AIST and Mothers’ Day Classic, died in February 2015. Her legacy, for those and a range of other achievements, was recognised at the Women in Super, Sydney, lunch last week. It was the organisation’s 25th anniversary and there was a lot to celebrate.

Women in Super (WIS) has raised $35 million, largely through the Mothers’ Day Classic fun runs (which started in 1998), for breast cancer research. In recent years it has widened its brief to include donations to prostate cancer research. And, in more recent years, it is widening its brief still further, looking to see what it can do about violence against women. True to its name, of course, improving the retirement savings of women remains a core objective.

Lata McNulty, the NSW committee chair, said that the organisation’s major sponsor, Industry Super Holdings, had welcomed a new member to its fold: the online publication New Daily. The other member companies are IFM Investors, which is owned by 27 not-for-profit super funds, Industry Super Australia, which is an advocacy group, and Industry Fund Services, which is the oldest company in the not-for-profit orbit.

Susan Buckley, the chief executive of WIS, told a sold-out lunch in Sydney last week (on August 21), towards the end of the organisation’s latest national roadshow: “For Mavis, one goal was never sufficient.” WIS, appropriately, currently has five goals. They are:

  • a minimum annual $1,000 contribution for low-income earners
  • an increase in the Superannuation Guarantee from the current 9.5 per cent to 12 per cent
  • remove the current $450 minimum monthly pay threshold before super is paid
  • pay super when someone (usually women) is on parental leave, and
  • provide better reporting and accountability.

“We will continue to do a lot with our advocacy work,” Buckley said. “Without compulsory super two-thirds of women would be without any… Women still retire with about half the super of men, so we still have a lot of work to do.”

The keynote speaker at the event was Julia Angrisano, a trustee director of AustralianSuper and the national secretary of the Financial Services Union. She said the outcomes in superannuation in Australia were not equitable. She quoted Richard Denniss, the chief economist at the Australia Institute and former staffer for Greens Senator Bob Brown, who offered this advice to people for their retirement savings:

  • don’t work in a ‘caring’ profession
  • don’t take time out from work when you are young
  • don’t take time out from work when you are older, and
  • don’t be a woman.

As a footnote, Mavis was much more than the sum of her super industry achievements. She gets a mention, for instance, in the official history of the Communist Party of Australia. She was one of the first western women to embark on a formal visit to what was then-known as ‘Red China’. Widowed at a relatively young age, she was, probably more importantly, a devoted mother and grandmother. And she was a mentor to many people who she met throughout her life – not only women.

– G.B.