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When did superannuation start in Australia?

Updated on 29 November 2023

6 min read

Superannuation is how most people save money for retirement. It's an important part of your personal finances and our country's economy. Let's look at how and when super started, and what it means today.

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When was superannuation introduced?

Australia first had a super-style retirement pension in the 1800s.

For example, the Bank of Australasia – which became ANZ Bank – created a "superannuation fund" for its staff in October 1842. This was based on the UK's super pension system.

More than 100 years later, it became compulsory for employers to pay superannuation for most workers.

And these days, there are 24 million super accounts in Australia (Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), 2023). There’s 26 million people living here, but some people have more than one account (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2023).

There's more than $3.5 trillion invested in the superannuation industry, so it's a big part of Australia's economy.

A brief history of superannuation

Until the 1980s, super was only for public servants (government employees) and white collar employees of large corporations.

This was separate to the Age Pension, which began as an old age pension paid by state governments from 1900 onwards.

So when we're talking about how long superannuation has been around, it's been quite a while.

Our members are part of one of the first super funds in the country. We started in 1913, as the Public Service Superannuation Fund for Queensland Government workers.

This super fund was known as QSuper until it combined with Sunsuper in 2022, creating Australian Retirement Trust. Today, anyone can join us here at ART.

Who decided to start superannuation?

In the mid-1800s, some government employers and large corporations started setting aside money to pay workers a pension.

But more employers picked it up in the 1900s, largely thanks to Australia's unions.

As far back as the 1920s, the unions were encouraging employers and the government to protect retired workers. They said everyone has a right to a decent, dignified, and supported life when they can't work anymore.

Working together, the unions and super funds pushed for a compulsory superannuation system. These days, most employees in Australia receive super.

Unions that helped us get a superannuation pension included…

  • 1930s: The Miners' Federation ran industrial actions for an industry pension, including a 6-week strike in NSW (1938).
  • 1967: The Waterside Workers’ Federation sponsored a super fund for Stevedores in 1967.
  • 1970s: The Pulp and Paper Workers Union, the Storemen and Packers, and the Meatworkers’ Union worked to start pension funds and campaigned to sign up more employers.
  • 1983: The Arbitration Commission agreed that awards could include 3% super if employers and unions negotiated and agreed to it.
  • 1984: The Building Workers Industrial Union got award-based super for its members, creating the Building Union Superannuation Scheme.
  • 1985: The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) made a deal with Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Treasurer Paul Keating to create new laws about super, as reported by the Australian Financial Review. Employers would have to pay super for all workers, in exchange for a lower pay rise initially.

What year did compulsory super start in Australia?

The superannuation industry had big changes in 1992. That's when compulsory super, also called the superannuation guarantee (SG), started in Australia.

The government, led by Prime Minister Paul Keating, made a law for employers to pay 3-4% of their workers' wages into a super fund.

This was a big deal because it meant almost everyone would have some savings for life after work.

Modern changes to superannuation laws

The amount of super employers have to pay slowly got larger over time. While the SG was only 3-4% when introduced – by 2002, it was 9%, and it's still going up. In 2025, it's set to be 12% of your pay. Find out more.

Some of the main changes to super laws have been:

  • 1980s: Life insurance became a part of workplace superannuation and industrial agreements.
  • 1990s: You can now choose which investment options you put your super in.
  • 1992: Compulsory superannuation guarantee (SG) super started.
  • 1 July 2005: You can now choose which super fund to join.
  • 2008: Super funds can now offer First Home Saver Accounts. Then in 2017, the First Home Super Saver Scheme started, letting first home buyers add extra money to super to save for a house deposit.
  • 2009: Super funds can now offer you financial advice about your super account with that fund.
  • 1 July 2013: Sunsuper (now ART) was the first super fund to offer an APRA-approved MySuper investment option, for members who don't choose an investment option.
  • 1 July 2018: The downsizer contribution lets you add some money from the sale of your family home to your super.
  • 1 July 2019: Life insurance in your super is no longer automatic for most young workers and people with a low super balance.
  • 1 July 2020: Temporary changes let people take money out of their super if they were in financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, and lowered how much pensioners needed to withdraw each year.
  • 1 July 2021: People now have a super fund "stapled" for them, so when they change jobs, their employer pays super to that account.
  • March 2021: QSuper (now ART) introduced the first Lifetime Pension using superannuation to create an income for life.
  • 1 July 2022: Removed the requirement that workers earn at least $450/month in order to get super.

At ART, if your total balance for your Super Savings accounts is under $6,000, your fees won't be more than 3% of your account balance. We'll refund any amount you pay above this limit, called the low balance fee cap.

As people get older around Australia, there's more pressure to make sure everyone retires with enough money to live on. Some people say increasing the SG rate to 12% might still not be enough. We don't know if the law will change again in the future.

What do you need to know about your super?

Superannuation in Australia has come a long way since it began in the 1800s. It's become a big part of our financial future.

Because super funds invest the money in their fund in things like stocks, property, and bonds, they're a big deal for Australia's economy.

Of course, the main reason super funds invest your money is to grow your balance, so you hopefully have more super when you retire.

It's important that you check on your super regularly. Ask us if you have any questions about how your super account works.

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