Guidebook

What is the Future Fund and who really runs it? (Note: It's not Gonski)

The Future Fund, set up in 2004, is an independent fund where the government deposits surplus cash to make sure it can pay superannuation to retired civil servants in years to come.

Its wealth stands at just over $70 billion, and could be as high as $140 billion by 2020. So, we're talking about phenomenal sums of money. But who, at the end of the day, has the power to influence how it is managed?

The fund is overseen by a board of "guardians" whose chairman, as of today, is David Gonski.

The guardians are selected by the government for their expertise in investment management. They work independently from the government and are responsible for investing the funds. The chairman is ultimately responsible for managing the funds and for keeping the government up to speed on any investment losses or issues.

But – and this is a crucial 'but' – the fund has a separate management. It is this management who really run things by advising and guiding the board every step of the way. They, ultimately, have the power.

The management team consists Mark Burgess, an investment manager whose clients have included Credit Suisse, Colonial First State Investments and American Express BT, and David Neal, the consultant who set up The Future Fund in the first place.

Burgess, who has been the fund's general manager for 12 months, is stepping up his PR and informing taxpayers of where the bulk of the fund's investments lie. This week, for example, he hosted an open day with Melbourne University – not only to share information but also to attract new talent.

What is known is that about 74% of the fund's assets are invested offshore, and just 10% in Australian equities.

We are yet to hear Gonski's specific plans and ambitions for his role as board chairman. But we do know he will have to follow management advice and go through the government if he wants to make changes.

As chairman of ASX Group, Investec Bank, Coca-Cola Amatil and Ingeus Ltd, a director of Singapore Airlines, he clearly knows his business stuff.

So, can he be trusted with what is, essentially, our money?

The federal government clearly trusts him, as it recently appointed him to conduct a review of school education.

Gonski has said he will quit his ASX role and some of his other posts to prevent conflicts of interest.

And he has given his word, saying earlier this week that he will "give back to Australia". "I see it as something I can do for Australia," he said. "I can't play football and I can't act or sing, so maybe I can use the experiences I've had."


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