Tansy Harcourt, Senior Reporter at The Australian
The former Business Council of Australia boss Jennifer Westacott has been named as the new chairman of Future Generation Global, the listed investment company that donates a portion of its profits – so far $38m – to youth mental health charities.
The outspoken chair will need to harness her political connections right from the start, with the group of Future Generation companies making a pitch to the Productivity Commission to create an universal tax-free program to encourage greater philanthropy.
“I was working very closely with the government in my BCA role to try and work through (the question of) how do we get philanthropy to really work and how do we get it to have impact,” Ms Westacott said.
The Future Generation draft submission to the government will be made public this week.
It will suggest allowing all Australians the option of allocating a tax-free portion of money to be spent on philanthropic causes.
The Australian government wants to see philanthropic donations double by 2030.
Future Generation has proposed a structure similar to Britain’s Individual Savings Accounts model – which allows for £20,000 ($38,000) of tax-free money to be set aside – but with the addition of charitable donations and investments through firms such as its own, to help reach that goal.
“It’s a question of what are the right vehicles,” Ms Westacott said.
“If I’m a shareholder and I’m looking for that double dividend – I want to get a good return on my money but I want to do something – then (Future Generation) is an ideal structure. The question then becomes, what are the right tax arrangements? What are the right incentives?”
Future Generation is the creation of veteran stockpicker Geoff Wilson, who said that such moves could see the $3bn currently invested in philanthropic investment vehicles turn into $100bn. “Therefore (from the $100bn) that would be $1bn there going to support these not-for-profits.
One of the great things about this funding is that we’re there supporting those charities and they know they’re going to get the money next year and they know they’re going to get their money again the year after.”
Mr Wilson founded Future Generation Global in 2015 to offer shareholders investment and social returns. The LIC gives shareholders exposure to leading Australian fund managers without management or performance fees and has produced a 7.2 per cent return since its inception, which lags behind the MSCI AC World Index on 9.5 per cent over that time.
Mr Wilson said his firm had reweighted the portfolio managers who donated their time to Future Generation Global, with Magellan now accounting for less than before. The fund’s managers who provide their work for free also include Paradice Investment Management, Plato and Marin Currie.
Ms Westacott has long been a supporter of mental health initiatives, having chaired Mental Health Australia for seven years, and held government roles such as Director of Housing, running the Department of Community Services, and the Secretary of Education, Victoria.
“I’ve been a passionate advocate about mental health for a long time,” said Ms Westacott, adding that her previous role she could “see how ineffective services for people with a mental illness or people with mental wellbeing issues have been”.
“For all the money we’ve spent, we’re not making progress.
“So this is a huge kind of issue for me and so this is right in the sweet spot on the mental health,” she said.
Future Generation chief executive Caroline Gurney said Ms Westacott’s background and passion made her a perfect fit for the role. “Jennifer believes in what we are doing,” Ms Gurney said.
“Her passion for business and the community, her network, and her unrivalled understanding of how the public and private sectors intersect will be invaluable as we work to promote wellbeing and prevent mental health conditions in young Australians through investment.”
Future Generation Global closed Friday’s session unchanged at $1.16 per share.
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