Royalty rings for big super funds in an anti-tobacco cause

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Australians love their royals. Even the republicans amongst us are very happy to engage with royal tours. The growing anti-tobacco lobby managed to hop on the bandwagon, by accident, last Thursday morning to launch a new initiative in the important anti-tobacco movement. An Arabian princess presided over the proceedings.

The breakfast, on October 18, included a glittering roll-up of Australia’s biggest investors as well as eggs hollandaise for about 120 industry folk at Sydney’s ‘hatted’ ARIA restaurant, next to the Opera House. The star attraction was Her Royal Highness Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, who is the president of the Union for International Cancer Control. It coincided with the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, who had wowed the Sydney crowds for the previous few days.

Princess Dina Mired, though, was so charming that even old republicans melted as she told both her personal story, as the mother of a cancer survivor, and of her industry and world-wide campaign to stop people from smoking cigarettes. Princess Dina Mired is also the global ambassador for the Australian-led global “Tobacco Free Portfolios’ organisation, run by the well-known Dr Bronwyn King. Bronwyn, also, is probably the most charming of any doctor you are likely to meet anytime soon. There was so much charm in the room that it was difficult to take a journalist’s notes.

So, after years of battling, Dr King now has 45 big Aussie super funds and commercial fund managers and others, which represent probably $1.3 trillion in assets, to go ‘tobacco free’ in their investments.

Dr King launched a ‘tobacco-free’ stamp certification at the breakfast. There is a fee to use the ‘stamp’ but this goes into continuing the good fight to stop people from smoking. An estimated 7 million people will die this year from a smoking-related disease.

When Dr King started her campaign in 2010 there were just three super funds that came on board. Eight years later there are 45. Plus, some investment managers have also come on board. Coincidentally, Colonial First State announced last week that it would go ‘tobacco free’ by 2020.

Dr King mentioned the “challenges’ for super funds and other fiduciary investors in going ‘tobacco free’. According to one senior executive at a big not-for-profit fund, the process is such that a range of people need to get engaged, including the in-house investment managers. An early hurdle is that investment managers hate their stock universe being reduced by some values-based decision by their board. They are correct in suggesting that ‘Modern Portfolio Theory’, from the 1950s, dictates that the more options the better. But, more than 60 years later, things are different.

Princess Dina, whose son recovered from a rare form of leukaemia, said that cancer was a “smart disease” which always seemed to find “loopholes”. She said the only thing which was important was dealing with the end result. The best way to do that was to try to deal with the root cause. About 80 per cent of people who contract deadly lung cancer have smoked cigarettes for a considerable period of their lives.

Michael Dwyer, Debby Blakey, Adam Tindale and 'Her Royal Highness' Princess Dina Mired

Michael Dwyer, Debby Blakey, Adam Tindale and ‘Her Royal Highness’ Princess Dina Mired

In a panel session at the breakfast, three big fiduciary investors had their say: Michael Dwyer, the chief executive of First State Super; Debby Blakey, the chief executive of HESTA; and, Adam Tindale, the chief executive of AMP Capital.

Dwyer said that the decisions to be made to go tobacco-free were not easy ones. He said: “The finance industry is complex and it has a lot of laws governing it… We merged with Health Super in 2011 [which meant a big change in the membership profile of the fund]. The tobacco decision was a difficult one and we spoke about it at five board meetings. We had some ‘champions’ on the board for the initiative and without that it may not have happened. For instance, we had a union secretary on our board whose members worked in the tobacco industry. He was strident in support of our [tobacco free]initiative.”

Blakey, the boss of HESTA, who presides over a big fund whose members are not only predominantly in the health care industry but are also predominantly women, said that HESTA made a considered decision without knowing what any other fund – including First State Super – was doing.

“We had one director on the board who was a smoker,” she said. “But he was possibly the most passionate about going tobacco free. Out feeling after we made the decision was that we absolutely knew we made the right decision.”

– G.B.

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