Unisuper – not so super?

Hi Everyone,

This is a special, post just for readers who have their superannuation funds with the Australian fund ‘Unisuper’.

If you do not have an account, please don’t waste your time reading on. If you are in the fund, I’d appreciate a couple of minutes of your time to consider a proposition.

I am writing to you to let you know I am supporting the Open Letter from Market Forces asking UniSuper to Divest from Fossil Fuels.

You might not be aware that UniSuper is investing in companies that undermine action on climate change. Science has shown us that climate change is being caused, in large part, by humans burning fossil fuels. If you haven’t signed the open letter already, here’s some background on UniSuper and their attitude.

I’ve had my money in UniSuper for over 20 years because, well – I have to. Academia has a strong union culture and UniSuper is the union industry fund. I can’t switch away, even if I wanted to. This hasn’t bothered me in the past. I am proudly union, and until recently I thought UniSuper was the right choice. The fund has always done very well.

Like many people working in academia, I am hyper aware of climate change research and researchers. As soon as UniSuper offered an ethical stream, I moved my money over and thought very little about it. Like most of us I am more concerned with today than what happens in 30 years time. Recently, however, it’s came to my attention that the UniSuper ethical stream – not so Green. And the rest of the fund? Frankly, it’s record on climate friendly investing is terrible. Here’s a snapshot of their investment:

Have a look at the whole page of comparisons if you want to see other funds that are doing much better. In addition to this, UniSuper has never once supported any share holder activism around climate change in any of the companies it owns (read this article in the Sydney morning Herald, from a week or so ago, if you want more detail).

Appalled, I immediately signed the open letter. About a week later I got a form letter-email from Donald at UniSuper saying they were ‘engaging’ with companies rather than divesting. Donald claimed this engagement strategy was a better way to tackle the problem because if they sold out of these companies, others would just buy in. Those unspecified ‘others’ wouldn’t have the same moral purpose (Donald didn’t say ‘moral purpose’, but that’s what he meant).

This sounded like bullshit to me, but I wrote back politely to ask what outcomes they had from the engagement strategy so far. Sarah from UniSuper wrote back to me claiming, amongst other things, that their divestment in Aurizon (over a decision to support the Adani coal pipeline) was evidence of how strong a stance they take on fossil fuel supporters.

Now I was confused. Divestment was not a good strategy to tackle fossil fuel emitters, until it was? What the hell?

I tried ringing Sarah for clarification, but the switchboard refused to put me through. Laura promised to ring back in 24 hours, but of course she didn’t. I wasn’t giving up so easily, I wanted to speak to a human. I wanted to know if the people investing my money – which I couldn’t take away from them – had a conscience about what they were doing.

So I sat on hold for 30 minutes the next day, in the car on the way to an appointment, while I watched the huge cloud of smoke from the Namagi bushfire threatening the south of Canberra. After some wrangling, I managed to get through to Dave. I want to give Dave at UniSuper a big shout out for being a decent human trapped in a shitty job. His job was to be a human shield to stop the members of UniSuper from actively engaging with anyone on the investment team. I failed to talk to anyone about what they were actually doing with my money. I told him I had a blog with quite a few followers who might want to know how UniSuper condescended to their members and didn’t want to engage with genuine concerns.

I guess someone at UniSuper looked me up because they have tried to call me a few times. Each time I couldn’t take the call and when I try to call back, I end up on hold for 30 minutes each time and the person on the other end is confused. I still haven’t managed to talk to an investor.

I think UniSuper is underestimating its members, don’t you? I think we should have the right to tell them what we think in person. I don’t think they should use our money to essentially build a set of human shields to avoid talking to members about their genuine concerns.

But it’s worse than that. The world is like a person with type 2 diabetes right now. We know we have to change, we need to go on a diet, but diets are hard. UniSuper knows it has to go on a diet, but it doesn’t want to. My experience of hours on the phone to them is that the Market Forces Open Letter is your best chance to be heard. If you feel the way I do, please consider signing it. It only takes a minute.

We’ve had a terrible summer in Australia. Canberra, where I live, has been hit very hard. There has been terrfiying fire, damaging hail and days and days of choking smoke. It is estimated that 1 billion animals died. While the Australian bush regenerates, some of the forests that went in these fires are not designed to burn like this. They will grow back, but with more flammable material. Although rains have come, this horror isn’t over. Next summer we will burn, and burn some more – then the summer after that we will burn again. Now we are seeing land erosion as the rains come and wash away the top soil, which is no longer anchored by forest.

This is the start of climate collapse in Australia. If drastic action is not taken, we will look back on this summer as a time we thought we only thought we had problems. If we keep supporting fossil fuels we will have bigger problems soon – problems no amount of money will solve.

Unisuper should divest from the fossil fuel industry. Not tomorrow perhaps, but they should at least have a PLAN. If they don’t make a plan, we need to pressure our unions to divest from UniSuper.

Again, here’s the link to the Open Letter from Market Forces asking UniSuper to Divest.

Please help us get to 10,000 signatures by sharing this post – that’s only about 3000 more! Let’s send them a message they have to hear!

In solidarity



Posted in: Uncategorized

40 thoughts on “Unisuper – not so super?

  1. Tom Worthington says:

    If you are not happy with how your superannuation fund is investing your money, then move it to another fund. Some years ago I opened an account with an ethical investment fund. Transferring my money turned out to be very simple to do. But I made sure I got independent financial advice first (not from a super fund).

    • Thesis Whisperer says:

      We don’t have that much agency. It has to go in there and I can only transfer out a certain amount each year – I’m considering doing this, but they still get my money initially. I prefer to stay in and pressure them at this point. If they uni changes the EBA, I will definitely switch.

  2. Simon Wright says:

    This is a great initiative Inger. It’s probably not unfair to say that Unisuper has been positively misleading in its communication strategy to members, the SMH article will hopefully prompt folk to drive some change. Thanks again.

  3. Caron Eastgate Dann says:

    Hear hear! UniSuper needs to listen to its members. They should be much easier to contact than they are. In October 2019, the NTEU called on UniSuper to ‘urgently prepare a ten-year plan towards fully carbon neutral investments by 2030’. More information is here: http://www.aur.org.au/article/NTEU-National-Council-declares-a-Climate-Emergency-21666.
    Interestingly, while it’s commonly believed UniSuper is run by the unions, the employers have at least an equal representation: of the eight directors of the UniSuper board, 2 are nominated by the vice-chancellors of shareholder universities, two by Consultative Committee members who represent employers, two by Consultative Committee members who represent professional and academic staff respectively, and two by unions.
    (Disclosure: I’m the Vice-President, Academic, of the Monash University NTEU branch).

    • Thesis Whisperer says:

      Thanks for that information Caron – and thank you for your work in the union movement. I believe our unions can be such a power for good and it’s sad and annoying to hear that UniSuper are not listening to their voice either!

  4. Annabelle Pontvianne says:

    Thank you so much Inger for this post. I have had the same concern for years. I spoke to a Unisuper financial adviser to seek the most ethical investment, only to be told that none really was because Unisuper lent money to banks/organisations who used it without any ethical /environmentally sustainable obligations or commitments. (I thought for a while that their “sustainable” investment option was environmentally sustainable but it was a gross oversight on my behalf). I am very disappointed but like you I have been feeling trapped by a lack of choices. Thank you for your hard work chasing up clear information and raising awareness about this. It goes without saying that I signed the letter and shared it on social media. Best regards, Annabelle

    On Thu, Feb 13, 2020 at 10:02 AM The Thesis Whisperer wrote:

    > Thesis Whisperer posted: “Hi Everyone, This is a special, post just for > readers who have their superannuation funds with the Australian fund > ‘Unisuper’. If you do not have an account, please don’t waste your time > reading on. If you are in the fund, I’d appreciate a couple of” >

  5. pbellemore says:

    Thanks Inger. Like others, UniSuper is not my fund of choice. It is really important that we all advocate for change and shift funds into appropriate investments. Hopefully, with enough pressure UniSuper will change.

    • Sandra Weller says:

      I am also extremely dissatisfied that I have never been allowed to choose to use an alternate superannuation provider during multiple brief stints of employment at my institution. I have a long-established relationship with another provider, so every time my contract is over I have to mess about with sending the UniSuper payment to the other one. If I don’t do this in a timely manner I lose some of the contribution in fees, as well. This is probably the most annoying aspect, since I am getting no service from UniSuper for this fee.

      • Thesis Whisperer says:

        I’m sorry to hear that – I have wondered if it was still annoying being a casual – seems nothing has changed in the 10 years since I got a long term contract… It’s really not helping their cause is it?

  6. Sandra Weller says:

    I agree, all super providers should be moving away from supporting the fossil fuel industry. At some time in the not too distant future, some economists are predicting it will fall over. Playing fast and loose with members’ contributions is just the wrong thing to do.

  7. sritchie73 says:

    It is possible to change your investment options with UniSuper to a more environmentally friendly portfolio. It’s buried a bit in the interface, but if you can choose a sector specific portfolio rather than one of the premixed ones. In particular, they have a “Global Environmental Opportunities” portfolio: https://www.unisuper.com.au/investments/investment-options-and-performance/super-performance-and-option-holdings/global-environmental-opportunities

    I switched to this once I found out the “sustainable” premixed options weren’t as environmentally sustainable as I had initially assumed.

  8. Sue Jackson says:

    Inger, I’d be keen to help with this campaign. I think that those members who are concerned should be doing more than writing a letter. Do you need any help?
    Sue Jackson

  9. Jonny tokyo says:

    WELL DONE YOU!!Really appreciate the work you’ve been doing here Inger in holding Unisuper to account! Well done.Count me in!!Jonny  Sent from Mail for Windows 10 From: The Thesis WhispererSent: Thursday, 13 February 2020 10:02 AMTo: utsjonnywells@gmail.comSubject: [New post] Unisuper – not so super? Thesis Whisperer posted: "Hi Everyone, This is a special, post just for readers who have their superannuation funds with the Australian fund ‘Unisuper’. If you do not have an account, please don’t waste your time reading on. If you are in the fund, I’d appreciate a couple of"

  10. Rosalie says:

    I’m glad I read on even though I do not hold funds with UniSuper. This is such an important issue Inger, as you can see by all the supportive comments you have received. Everybody needs to know.

    I think that the fact that your employer can control where your super funds goes is a breach of your rights (perhaps reminiscent of the Cashless Welfare card) https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-01/cashless-welfare-card-committee-hearing-northern-territory/11662892.

    • Thesis Whisperer says:

      Industry funds like Unisuper can have a lot of benefits for workers – but in this case they are not doing themselves any favours. What is particularly galling is the so called ‘ethical option’ does not actually give you a real choice.

  11. Karen Jones says:

    Thank you for sharing, I don’t seem to be able to find the open letter to sign it – the link goes to articles about this but not the letter or signature page?
    This issue also highlights another concern that unlike all other workplaces and despite the legislation, we do not have a choice of fund! As I already had another fund before coming into academia my only way around this has been to make an annual transfer into my existing fund.
    Choice of fund would help hold UniSuper more accountable to its members, who could otherwise move to a more ethical fund.

  12. Sarah says:

    I booked a free on campus information meeting with a UniSuper advisor so that I could tell them what I thought about divesting from the coal, gas and mining industry in person. I didn’t get a lot of answers but I did get my message across.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s