CEDA member profile: HESTA




Mary Delahunty, Head of Impact, HESTA

What is HESTA?

HESTA is the industry fund for the health and community services sector. We’ve got over 800,000 members, and over $33 billion of assets under management. We are coming up to 30 years old next year. 

How did HESTA start out?

HESTA was a part of the universal superannuation movement, which came about as a result of a wage accord. And it has come about through many people who have come before us, and who are still in the industry, fighting and struggling for the concept that dignity in retirement should be a universal.

What are HESTA's priorities for the upcoming year?

There are many, but I’d like to talk about priorities that are in my remit, and I’d like to focus on the policy discussion. We will be focusing on budgetary challenges in the Federal Budget. We’re not really sure what the package of reforms will look like going forward, but the Productivity Commission has kicked off a review into the effectiveness and efficiency of superannuation. With HESTA being one of the largest industry funds, we’re keen to participate – along with our peak bodies – in that kind of a review, and to positively influence the growth of the industry.  

Although we’re nearly 30 years old, and the system is approaching maturity, a key focus for HESTA is whether or not the superannuation industry is delivering on its promise, especially to women. Around 85 per cent of our members are women, so our continued focus will be on understanding whether policy settings are right in order to deliver better outcomes for women in retirement.

Women are retiring with around half the super savings of men. This is due to a number of factors, such as time out of the workforce and the pay equity gap. Then there’s of course the fact that women live longer than men, so there’s an adequacy issue in retirement as well. That is a huge focus of ours. The whole country seems to be warmed up to the idea of talking about superannuation at the moment, so we need to make sure they’re talking about it, from a gender angle as well and from a low income perspective.

How did you start in the industry?

To go into the super sector is an incredible career in finance to have in Melbourne, because there’s such a strong industry here. I didn’t know that much about it before I was exposed to it by working at Link Market Services. Superannuation has this great marriage between a real financial element and social impact.

What have been your key contributions to HESTA and the superannuation industry?

I received a Churchill Fellowship last year and my research formed part of a  HESTA submission into the recent Senate enquiry into the financial security for women in retirement. The enquiry handed down documentation which had a number of the submission’s research suggestions peppered throughout it. So we’ve got to now focus on getting that into the reform agenda as well.

The Senate enquiry had good bipartisan support. Everyone is accepting of the basic gender problem now, which is a key step forward. We’ve got a system that’s predicated on time in the workforce, and then we have a gender that naturally takes time out of the workforce. So I think now there is good bipartisan support toward the idea that the retirement equity gap is a structural issue; it is not a women’s problem, it is a national problem. That’s step one, and now it’s finding avenues in the new parliament to support that structural change. There are more conversations to be had. As the Productivity Commission is reviewing productiveness and efficiency, that effectiveness criteria should have a gender lens on it.

What industry changes have you seen in the last 12 months and what's in store for the next 12?

In the last 12 months the most interesting change we have had has been a renewed focus on fairness outcomes. It’s a very welcome discourse for the country to enter into, and for HESTA the gender outcome is a very important consideration. It’s been really interesting to watch that level conversation entered into in the broader Australian landscape and not just in the superannuation industry anymore.

We will see some reform in the next 12 months because the government went into the election with a package of changes, and so they will need to be negotiated. Superannuation is still perceived as a social movement. That’s why we need to keep working on it, and I don’t ever see that ending, but I think the lens through which we look at it might shift a little bit toward fairness.

How does CEDA help HESTA meets its challenges and opportunities?

From my personal experience, the discussions on policy initiatives are very helpful. We feel HESTA has an advocacy obligation to understand the key components of policy making. To participate in budget discussions at a whole-of-country level has been very helpful. It’s also very useful because, as we focus on our members in the health and community services sector and we work in solving problems for health and community services employers, we extend our network by bringing employers along to events that are specific to their industry. From a company level we participate because it gives us exposure to the financial conversations and budget discussions that impact our business.