We’re here for everyone
While the superannuation system was designed to help support Australians in their retirement, the unique needs of First Nations people have often been overlooked. For example, the average Indigenous man will accumulate a super balance of $308,000 by the age of 65, compared to $483,000 for non-Indigenous men; while Indigenous women are likely to reach $205,000 compared to $313,000 for non-Indigenous women.1
So how do we, as a super fund, effect change to deliver better outcomes for our First Nations’ members?
The path to change
We’re building the foundations to deliver a stronger future. At the heart of this change are our employees. We sat down with Sean Higgins, a passionate UniSuper Employer Partnership Manager based in Western Australia, to talk about UniSuper’s Reconciliation Action Plan group.
Tell us about the Action Plan group and the importance of cultural awareness training.
I’ve been a member of UniSuper’s working group since 2018, helping to develop our first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). We’re committed to raising cultural awareness within UniSuper and having a greater understanding of their contemporary values. This is an essential challenge as we move towards reconciliation.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing our First Nations’ members?
As a non-Indigenous person, I feel our First Nations’ members are best qualified to answer this. However, a UniSuper sponsored piece of research by Curtin University examined the inequities that exist in our superannuation system. Preservation age rules present a big problem. The life expectancy rates of Indigenous people are lower than non-Indigenous people, yet the age at which super benefits are available is the same for all. If the government lowers the preservation age for Indigenous people – and the life expectancy gap closes – it would be a significant step in addressing inherent inequities.
Can you share some highlights from the initiatives you’ve worked on?
It was immensely rewarding to support the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). Our support enabled the students to be equipped with the skills, confidence and resilience to perform at a professional standard.
As a founding donor of the Carrolup Centre for Truth-Telling at Curtin University in WA, we were able to continue our educational journey. The centre helps raise awareness of episodes that occurred in our not too distant past. The Carrolup story is an incredible tale of resilience and a reminder that cultural beauty will always prevail.
On our return to campuses in 2020, we took the opportunity to invite a local Aboriginal Elder to “re-open” our Murdoch University Centre with a formal smoking ceremony to spiritually cleanse the office. It was a great way to symbolically announce our return to on-campus operations.
Indigenous Australians face different life trajectories. Can you see change happening through these initiatives?
Real and meaningful change will be a generational transition. We have a collective responsibility to raise awareness, encourage understanding and change attitudes towards reconciliation. Our research collaboration with Curtin University, presented recommendations to make a difference, including the establishment of an industry standard for identifying Indigenous members, mandatory reporting on outcomes for Indigenous members to the Australian Superannuation Fund Association (ASFA) and providing targeted support for Indigenous people to better understand their super.
Has there been a memorable moment that’s heightened your understanding?
In 2008 I had conversation with Peter, an Aboriginal man in his late 60s who was working as a chemical engineer. We had a long chat about his past; an emotional story of adversity and resilience, detailing the shocking experiences he encountered as a child when he was forcibly removed from his family. Our meeting was not long after Kevin Rudd’s “sorry” speech and although Peter bore no malice, it was important for him to hear wrongs being acknowledged.
It feels like we’re making waves in raising awareness. Do you think there’s an end goal (as a fund)?
It’s a journey. As a leading super fund, we have an opportunity to be a prominent agent of change. We have some great initiatives underway; including plans to become an employer of choice for First Nations People and to better engage and educate our First Nations’ members. It’s only the beginning, with much to learn, but it’s a rewarding path to be on.
In 2020, UniSuper’s first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) was approved by Reconciliation Australia, to keep UniSuper accountable and deliver initiatives to:
- Increase financial literacy levels among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members
- Increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members’ engagement with their super, and
- Increase its employees’ understanding of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
Our RAP is a work in progress and will continue to evolve in line with our cultural understanding and awareness. Read more on our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
First Nations webcast
We’ve recently launched our ‘First Nations webcast - Your financial wellbeing’ to empower our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members with financial knowledge. The presentation was developed with input from our Indigenous consultant, to ensure it’s relevant and culturally appropriate.
If you’re interested in gaining a deeper understanding of our approach to educating our First Nations’ members, the webcast is available on demand.
1 New report finds more work needed to close Indigenous retirement gap - News and Events | Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia