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Keating’s margin notes on the start of national super

If you missed the second episode of Kerry O’Brien’s interviews with Paul Keating, it is still on ABC TV’s iview for a few more days, here. Well worth watching this insight into political power.

There’s a fascinating moment shortly after the start. The camera pans through the back room of Keating’s office, and shows him at work on a computer, reading a scanned newspaper. Kerry O’Brien says:

“Particularly revealing are his often candid notes handwritten in the margins at the time. He has a meticulous archive of more than 10,000 newspaper articles going back to the 1970s, collected personally week by week.”

The camera then focusses on a particular newspaper, The Australian Financial Review of Thursday 5 September 1985. It is stamped, ‘PJ Keating personal collection’. The headline on the lead story says, ‘Accord ... but costly’, written by Gerard Noonan. The opening paragraph of the lead article is:

“Not without some significant short term pain, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has scored a major coup in gaining - almost overnight - superannuation coverage for all wage and salary earners.”

And in the top right corner of the page, written in Paul Keating’s elegant handwriting, it says:

“The beginning of national super”

So there’s as good a record as any, from the father of modern superannuation. The historic date is 4 September 1985, not seven years later when the national superannuation guarantee started.


(Paul Keating wrote three articles on superannuation for Cuffelinks, listed here).


Graham Hand
November 22, 2013

Exactly my point, Jimbo. You say national super started 1992, Keating says 1985. I say Keating is a greater authority on this. Who said anything about the Superannuation Guarantee?

November 22, 2013

What good eyesight you have to discern the handwritten note made by the ‘father of Australian superannuation’ on his baby’s birth notice.

November 22, 2013

I do not understand the point of this article. The legislation start date was 1992. Clearly it would take many years of planning and trying to get it through parliament before the legislation was enacted. Is this surprising?

Harry Chemay
November 22, 2013

Actually Jimbo the reference to September 1985 was to the National Wage Case claim made by the ACTU (under the leadership of by Bill Kelty) to the then Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

These 'Accords' with the then Treasurer Keating paved the way for the introduction of the Occupational Superannuation Standards Act 1987 which extended super coverage from a select few (public sector employees and certain corporate employees) to the unionised workforce.

The OSSA was in turn superseded by the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 which heralded the arrival of 'universal superannuation' for (almost) all employees.

Steve Schubert
November 22, 2013

Actually Harry, OSSA and the SG Act were completely different. Before OSSA, super was regulated under the Tax Act. OSSA was the first attempt to separate prudential regulation from the ATO which is primarily interested in protecting the integrity of the tax system. This ultimately led to APRA.
The SG Act was intended to improve on the extension of super which came out of that National Wage case. Before the 1985 changes, super was most common in the public sector, many large employers (especially white collar workers) and some unionised industries (eg Coal, Seafarers, Stevedores, TWU, and, from 1984, Building and Construction). The 1985 Wage case extended this through a number of Awards but the system was not yet truly national as some workers weren't covered by Awards and not all employers fully complied with Awards. Keating knew that his vision of truly National Super could not be completed through the Award system alone and finished the job with the Super guarantee.


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