On the 30th anniversary of the accord between the Hawke government and the unions, one of its great legacies has passed a milestone. Australians have $1.5 trillion in their superannuation accounts, up $180 billion in nine months.
Superannuation used to be restricted to elite white-collar workers until the the Australian Council of Trade Unions agreed to years of no increase in real wages in return for employers contributing 3 per cent of workers' wages to new superannuation accounts.
In the late 1980s, despite Coalition opposition, superannuation became more or less universal. In 1991 the Hawke government turned it from being part of industrial awards into legislation, and required employers to gradually increase the payments to 9 per cent by 2000. In 2010 the Rudd government decided to increase it to 12 per cent by 2019.
Pauline Vamos, chief executive of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, said 96 per cent of Australian workers were now covered by superannuation, compared with 50 to 60 per cent in most Western countries. "Our employers generally have done well by their employees," she said.
Once the employer contribution of 12 per cent takes full effect, Ms Vamos said, "the vast majority of people will retire on at least 70 per cent of their pre-retirement income. That means they will live more healthily, and contribute more back to the economy".
Bureau of Statistics figures show our super nest eggs have just kept swelling: in 1989 they passed $100 billion for the first time; in 1996 they reached $200 billion; in 2003, they passed $500 billion, and by June 2007 they had hit $1 trillion.
The global financial crisis wiped $200 billion off the value of our superannuation assets in the 15 months to March 2009. But with more than $100 billion a year pouring in as members' contributions, by December 2010 our assets had hit record levels.