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Industry anxiety over super investor ad campaign

A BUSINESS that invests billions of dollars in workers' retirement savings every year is planning a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign highlighting investments in clean energy to coincide with the Gillard government's own marketing efforts on the carbon tax.

A BUSINESS that invests billions of dollars in workers' retirement savings every year is planning a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign highlighting investments in clean energy to coincide with the Gillard government's own marketing efforts on the carbon tax.

The campaign is expected to raise questions on the close links between industry superannuation funds, which have union officials and former politicians on the industry fund boards, and the Australian Labor Party.

The $2 million advertising blitz is to be fronted by Industry Funds Management (IFM), an asset manager owned by the nation's 16 industry funds. It owns a number of clean energy companies such as Pacific Hydro, and wind farms.

The public cannot invest directly in IFM. It manages nearly $30 billion in retirement savings on behalf of more than 5 million members of its super fund owners, which include Australian Super, MTAA Super and CBUS.

At least one fund executive alleged the ad campaign was initially to be funded by the super funds themselves, rather than IFM. This claim has been strongly denied by IFM chief executive Brett Himbury.

Mr Himbury confirmed that IFM was working on a campaign aimed at promoting its record of high returns from investing in infrastructure.

He said the campaign would be funded from IFM's marketing budget and would include references to some of its assets, which include wind farms, as well as clean energy. He also said the campaign would refer to other assets such as toll roads and have an element of "nation-building" given the large-scale nature of the infrastructure it has invested in.

Earlier this month, the 16 industry funds met at IFM headquarters for a marketing meeting with Industry Super Network, the lobby arm of the industry funds.

Among matters discussed was a "TV campaign around the same time as the government carbon price ads", according to a confidential memo of the meeting obtained by The Age.

The original TV campaign, created by Labor-linked advertising agency Shannons Way and outlined at the meeting, has caused unrest in the ranks of the industry fund members.

One senior industry super fund executive who attended the meeting said he was "concerned" at the decision to spend millions of dollars on a campaign that he believes was supporting the Gillard government's carbon tax.

"The campaign presented by Umberto [Mecchi, the marketing director of IFM] had a very heavily emphasis on clean energy and climate change with veiled support for the government's climate tax," the executive told The Age. The executive declined to be identified. "IFM was seen as the ideal vehicle for this campaign due to its investments in clean energy . . . Originally, the funds were to pay for this ad as part of the joint marketing campaign," he said.

Industry Super Network chief executive David Whiteley has strongly denied any reference was made to the carbon tax or climate change during the marketing meeting, despite the existence of the memo.

"A reference to 'clean energy future' in the story boards of the proposed ad is in the context of the full range of IFM infrastructure assets, which includes airports, ports, railway stations as well as wind farms and hydro projects," Mr Whiteley said.

He added: "If the ads were to proceed this year, it is inevitable they will coincide with the ongoing climate change debate."

The developments come at a sensitive time for the superannuation sector. The steep losses on global equity markets in recent months have put a hole in the returns of the super savings of Australians. Benchmark returns are down 1.5 per cent in July on the back of weak sharemarkets.


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