Australian super funds have taken a divided approach on the upcoming Indigenous Voice to Parliament national referendum, which proposes to “alter the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice”.

The Australian government announced on Tuesday that the vote will take place on 14 October.

While some Australian investors have issued statements of support on the vote, many have stayed silent, despite other public commitments to Australian First Nations People.

Insignia Financial and Mercer Super declined to comment when contacted by Responsible Investor on the referendum, while AMP, Cbus, Colonial First State and Hostplus did not respond to a request for comment.

None of these super funds has published a public statement on their position on the vote, RI understands. Each fund has in place a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), managed by Reconciliation Australia, which is a commitment to increase economic equity and support First Nations People.

Peter Morris, general manager of Reconciliation Australia, told RI: “Public support for the Voice referendum is not a requirement of having a RAP. However, we see a strong parallel between the benefits Australian institutions have seen from listening to the voices of First Nations People through their RAPs, and the benefits the Voice offers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and all Australians on a national political level.”

There are four levels of RAPs, which firms commit to over a specific timeframe. Colonial First State, Insignia Financial, Hostplus and Mercer Super each have an “Innovate” RAP in place, which is a two-year commitment for implementing reconciliation initiatives.

AMP announced a “Stretch” RAP in March, which focuses on embedding reconciliation through developed and longer-term strategies.

Fiona Reynolds, chair of the UN Global Compact Network Australia, told RI that she has been frustrated by the lack of vocal support for the referendum.

“While I note that a number of organisations have come out in support of the Voice, I have found it concerning that many which say they support human rights, have Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) in place, and pay respect to our First Nations People, are missing in action at the first key opportunity they are given to put those words into action,” she said.

“I remain hopeful, however, that once the referendum is called more organisations will come out in support of the Voice.”

She added that, while voting in a referendum is an individual decision, “people look to organisations and leaders they trust to see what actions they are taking”.

“I for one want to know that I have stood up for my beliefs, and I support voting yes,” she said. “I hope my fellow Australians will vote yes as well.”

The referendum was first put forward in the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017, where a group of First Nations People called for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution” to support Indigenous rights.

Statements of support

Super funds including AustralianSuper, Australian Retirement Trust, Aware Super, Uni Super, HESTA and REST have issued statements in support of the vote over the past few months.

HESTA and REST were the first big super funds to state their support in May, noting that it was in line with their commitments to an RAP.

In a statement seen by RI, AustralianSuper said it supported the Voice referendum, adding that it could “help correct long-standing inequity” regarding First Nations People’s financial exclusion from the financial services sector.

The fund said it is has long advocated for changes to the super system “to provide better retirement outcomes for First Nations members” by introducing measures such as lowering the preservation age for First Nations members to reflect lower life expectancy, as well as changing the insurance claims process for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members.

Australian Retirement Trust (ART), Aware Super and UniSuper issued public statements in June outlining their support of the Voice.

ART chief executive Bernard Reilly said: “We have seen the reality of the gap in retirement outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. This is a gap that the industry has a role to play in closing.”

He added that the fund was encouraging Australians to “engage in an informed and respectful dialogue” as part of the national conversation.

Aware Super echoed this, stating that First People “will remain at a structural disadvantage to non-Indigenous Australians” without the reforms proposed in the vote.