This is the third report by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) on the voting behaviour of Australia’s 50 largest superannuation funds — it follows our Vote Like You Mean It report in 2019 and our Two Steps Forward, One Step Back report in 2020. Through these reports, ACCR has analysed shareholder proposals relating to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues filed at 307 companies since 2017.
ACCR advocates for investment managers and asset owners to use every tool in their toolkits to achieve the best outcomes when engaging with companies on ESG matters — including voting on shareholder resolutions.
Since our first report in 2019, we have seen growing acceptance of the role of shareholder resolutions as a key element of active stewardship. In advice released by PRI in March 2021, proxy voting was identified as an important lever that allowed funds to provide clear and transparent feedback to a company, and as such, a tool that should be used alongside ordinary engagement. Also in 2021, BlackRock emphasised a new "sense of urgency" and made a public commitment to vote in favour of climate and social resolutions more often.
Of course, this does not suggest that voting in favour of every shareholder proposal necessarily represents sensible or progressive voting behaviour. Rather, funds should consider proxy voting as an integral part of company engagement, one which should be governed by clearly defined principles and policies. Funds must also adequately disclose their voting records, to allow their members to monitor their stewardship performance. These disclosures would also be of benefit to a broader range of stakeholders, with ASIC arguing that they would support the “gatekeepers” of the $3 trillion superannuation industry — the advisors, the analysts and the media — to better monitor fund performance.
The ability for fund members and other stakeholders to monitor voting performance is hampered by the lack of a legal requirement for funds to publicly disclose their voting records. Although most funds choose to disclose their voting records, they do so on their own timelines, in different formats and with varied levels of detail.
The aim of this report is to highlight the disclosure and voting practices of the 50 largest super funds in Australia, emphasising the importance of:
- good disclosure as a measure of accountability to members;
- consistent voting as a measure of proper governance, and a fund's diligence with respect to proxy voting; and
- the consonance between how a fund positions itself in theory (for example, as an investor which is sensitive to issues such as sustainability) and how it votes in practice.
Our recommendations promote the importance of proxy voting and disclosure, and aim to improve consistency in reporting across the industry.
As ESG resolutions increase in number, prominence and impact, ACCR's extensive archive of super fund proxy voting records, dating back to 2017, continues to be a critical source for journalists, academics and investors wanting to understand corporate governance issues and trends in Australia and abroad.
In the interests of transparency, ACCR has published the complete dataset underlying the report on our website.
On overall voting trends:
- Aggregate support for proposals fell slightly between 2019 and 2020 from 43% to 42%. This is a significant fall from 54% shareholder support for proposals in 2018.
- Nine funds supported a majority of proposals between 2017 and 2020: Active Super (76%), Vision Super (69%), HESTA (65%), Cbus (63%), Macquarie (62%), NGS Super (58%), Mercer (54%), AustralianSuper (51%) and Qantas Super (50%).
- Eight funds supported more than 50% of proposals in 2020: NGS Super (86%), Vision Super (79%), Cbus (71%), Active Super (64%), HESTA (63%), Energy Super (59%), AustralianSuper (57%), Care Super (54%).
- 44% of funds supported a significantly higher proportion of proposals at US companies than at Australian companies between 2017 and 2020.
- 22 out of 50 funds published complete voting records in 2020: 59% were industry funds, 18% were public sector funds, 14% were retail funds and 9% were corporate funds. This is a significant improvement in disclosure since 2017, when just 12 funds published complete voting records.
- Of the 22 funds, nine have consistently published complete voting records since 2017, the year from which ACCR began tracking disclosures.
- In 2020, eight funds did not disclose a proxy record, down from 11 in 2019.
On voting by industry association members:
- Members of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), the Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC), the UN Principles for Responsible investment (PRI) and/or the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia (RIAA) were more supportive of proposals between 2017 and 2020 than funds which are non-members of ACSI, IGCC, PRI and/or RIAA.
- Signatories to the Australian Asset Owners Stewardship Code (AAOSC) were also more supportive of proposals in 2020 than funds which are not signatories of the Code.
On thematic voting:
- Seven funds consistently supported more than 50% of climate-related proposals between 2017 and 2020.
- 16 funds supported more than 50% of lobbying-related proposals between 2017 and 2020.
- Six funds supported more than 50% of social-related proposals in the years examined. 2018 and 2019 had the highest levels of support with support either plateauing or decreasing across the funds in 2020.
- Lobbying-related proposals are still the most supported resolutions in 2020 with 31% support. This is closely followed by climate-related proposals with 27% and social-related proposals with 18% support.
- All funds should disclose their entire proxy voting record, for every proposal, at every company meeting, across all jurisdictions.
- Funds that delegate voting to asset managers should disclose the proxy voting record of those managers.
- Voting disclosures should be easily accessible on fund websites. Best practice disclosure is made through an online portal (typically facilitated by proxy advisers), which can also enable timely disclosure.
- Voting should be disclosed within a week of the company meeting. Best practice disclosure occurs, where practicable, ahead of company meetings.
- Where funds describe themselves as “active owners,” they should publish information about their active ownership strategies. In addition to the complete and timely disclosure practices recommended above, funds could demonstrate active ownership by describing the expectations they have of companies or sectors during private engagement, publishing analysis of their own proxy voting record, and publishing voting bulletins or rationales explaining voting decisions on votes of public interest.
- Funds should publish their responsible investment and proxy voting policies and ensure their voting is consistent with those policies.
- As part of their voting records, funds should publish a brief rationale about their reasons for abstaining from a vote or voting against management.
- Funds should vote consistently across jurisdictions.
- Funds should consider the interests of their members when voting for shareholder proposals, particularly when voting at companies that employ their own members.
- Funds should consider filing or co-filing proposals when other forms of engagement are unsuccessful in delivering change.
- Funds should publish a summary of their voting record.
- Funds should interrogate the integrity and quality of the research and arguments presented in shareholder resolutions, along with the credibility of the filers and co-filers.
Access the data
ACCR is releasing the full dataset that underlies this report with an Open Data License, in the spirit of transparency and to encourage the disclosure we recommend in the report.
The dataset, Super Fund Voting 2017-20, is available to use under the Open Data Commons Attribution License v1.0. We encourage you to access, analyse, and create new research with this dataset, on the condition that you attribute ACCR as its source and make the license conditions clear to others. Read more about this license at opendatacommons.org.
Super Fund Voting 2017-20 Dataset
This dataset is 36,170 rows, with each row representing a vote by a super fund on a shareholder resolution.
In the Vote column, the values map as follows: A=Against, B=Abstain, F=For, N=Not Disclosed, S=Split, -=Not Held.
Read more about the methodology in the report.
Download Super Fund Voting 2017-20 Dataset (2.4MB .XLSX file).
Shareholder Proposals 2017-2020 Dataset
This dataset is 960 rows, with each row representing a shareholder resolution that was covered in this report. Read more about the methodology in the report.
Download Shareholder Proposals 2017-2020 Dataset (71KB .XLSX file).
Super Fund Voting Disclosure CY2020 Dataset
This dataset is 51 rows, with each row representing a super fund. Read more about the methodology in the report.
Download Super Fund Voting Disclosure CY2020 Dataset (18KB .XLSX file).