In the Media

Cook Around Ku-ring-gai: From Dog Droppings to Dogs Breakfast?

Updated October 1, 2023

Amongst the pre-dawn boot-campers, dog-walkers and dogs in active-wear, and in the queues outside coffee-houses, the most common question I have received over the last few weeks has been “what exactly is going on with Ku-ring-gai Council now?” Somewhere between some shenanigans and skulduggery is the short answer.

Those with a full working week, small children and a big mortgage don’t often turn their mind to local government. They might lodge a call when their bin is unemptied, or a painful neighbour persists in some wrongdoing, but few watch video links to council meetings and forums, and fewer still head up to the Gordon chambers in person. Thankfully there are the community-minded and politically-engaged who keep a watch so you don’t have to!

Recently the security officer on duty has had to set out many more seats than usual. Mayor Jeff Pettett’s two-year term was to expire, and this prompted those councillors who are Liberal-party members to caucus and back in a new leader. Taking on the task of removing longstanding general manager John McKee was apparently part of the brief. While not an obvious choice, Roseville ward councillor Sam Ngai was their pick for mayoral nominee, and Cr Christine Kay a package deal as the deputy.

Not a lot of good faith was evident amongst the manoeuvring, phone messaging and back-slapping across the floor in recent meetings. Presumably the behind closed doors sessions are next level on the scales of rancour. Cr Cedric Spencer appeared to play the Machiavellian figure, sending a rather lame last-minute apology to the first sitting of the recent extraordinary general meeting, and later flipping his final vote on John McKee’s tenure. An EGM walk-out by (now former) mayor Jeff Pettett and like-minded councillors, all seeking to rescind the original general manager contractual termination, could not hold back the tide.

Neither could a regalia (my collective noun) of former mayors and other community leaders. Their staunch defence was in part motivated by the general manager’s connection with their own legacy.

The first two hours of the EGM had been consumed with speakers for and against off-leash dogs on community sports fields, and trod through a wide range of dog faeces euphemisms. The shouty speeches and finger-pointing continued as local identities then stood in the general manager’s defence. The marks given, and processes followed, in assessing the general manager’s performance was a constant cause of concern for councillors speaking across the floor in his defence. They also noted that the important and lamented decisions of council also belong to the elected councillors.

Adding to the affirmative were one or two speaking about council’s strategy and mis-steps over the last decade. They observed that, in the corporate world at least, 17 years is a long tenure, and perhaps it was indeed time for a change. Stewarding us though no high-rise, staving off other developments (sometimes without success but with great cost), and no amalgamation with Hornsby Council were presented as his achievements. A shortlist of what you did not do is not necessarily a strong legacy.

Council’s detractors have also included Wahroonga MP Alister Henskens, now the NSW Shadow Attorney General. He left no-one unsure of his opinion in his November 2021 speech in NSW Parliament. He reportedly sent congratulatory messages to councillors following the general manager decision, but denies having prior knowledge of the decision.

Mr Ngai came onto Council in 2017, and has a reputation for being closely-engaged with residents and displays a strong work-ethic. He too is a political tactician. He will need all of this as he juggles taking leave from his day job, volunteer work, his studies, plus a young family.

Despite an expenditure review being top of the to-do list, this general manager changeover is unlikely to be quick, smooth, or cheap. It will likely cost $500,000 of rate-payer funds.

There is a bit of work to do between now and the September 2024 local government elections.

Greg Cook is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia and was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Has the Voice Lost Its Way?

Updated September 16, 2023

I first voted in a referendum in 1988. I recall a 20-year-old me liked the idea of fixed election terms, which was one of the four questions. Turns out I was in the minority – Labor have a very bad track record in getting referendums up! In fact, I think I have voted yes in every referendum and plebiscite since. The republic was another where I found myself on the wrong side on history, as the saying goes.

It is condescending when strong yes supporters endlessly tell no supporters to educate themselves and get informed. This seems to assume only the ignorant are leaning to a no. The ABC’s poll average has the no at 57%, so that is an indictment on plenty of Australians. Sure, some Australians do not even know there is an upcoming referendum, and may well default to a no, if they don’t know.

Australian brands, including sports and large corporates, are actively supporting The Voice. Virtue signalling, you might say. As they spend that money, as many of 57% of their supporters, customers and everyday shareholders, disagree with them. Presumably they would rather these outfits concentrate on delivering their products and services. Qantas are coming around to that idea.

It is noteworthy that while some of these groups are silent on the issue, zero, as far as I have seen, are saying they support the no vote. By the way, our local Councils have taken a similar pathway. Lane Cove and North Sydney are loud and proud with a yes.

There is a political phenomenon called the Bradley effect. Tom Bradley was a popular African American mayor of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Surprisingly he lost in 1982, despite strong polling during the campaign. It is argued that many white voters said one thing to pollsters, but did another in the privacy of the voting booth. Perhaps there are more no voters than you think at your weekend dinner party.

From the time our Prime Minister brought forward Shaquille O’Neal as a spokesperson, I think the yes campaigners have driven down their own vote. I don’t know about you, but I find few Australians turn to American basketballers for their constitutional advice. If those ‘vids’ did get made, they have not popped up on my feed!

I have taken time to listen and learn. While I don’t need too much encouragement for a Saturday beer, I recently Ubered up to The Greengate at Killara and listened to Warren Mundine and Tony Abbott talk for the no campaign. I have listened to constitutional experts and taken the chance to chat with a former high court judge.

My natural position on the Voice is yes. I would say many ‘soft yes’ voters think our Indigenous Australians deserve whatever reasonable measures to assist them with opportunity and equality. Few give credence to the prospect of a voice to parliament having undue influence, but that possible ineffectiveness is part of the campaign’s problem. They would almost certainly vote yes for constitutional recognition, sans a Voice.

Queensland and Western Australia were always very unlikely to produce a yes vote. With a yes vote needing four of our six states, as well as the overall majority, it may be somewhere like South Australia that decides the day.

Greg Cook is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia and was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Eleder abused

Elder Abuse and Scams

Updated May 1, 2023

JOHN Olsen passed away in April. He was aged 95 years and was perhaps Australia’s great living artist. His ‘Salute to Five Bells’ adorns the Opera House. Less significantly, a print from his frogs collection fills one of my office walls! I met him a few years ago, about the time he was facing a very challenging personal situation.

His stepdaughter was charged with defrauding her mother of $2.2M shortly before the mother’s death. A four-year court process found she was guilty. Painful advancing years for a man also grieving a spouse. The court found the gift was procured with undue influence and was kept secret from those that could have been expected to be told. At the time the victim was suffering with a cognitive impairment and there was an absence of any professional financial planning or legal advice around the time of the transfer.

Almost half of the victims of financial fraud are aged 55 years or over. They are not necessarily the wealthy. As in the Olsen case, often both the perpetrator and the victim are in this same age bracket. A sad reality is this activity comes not from some distant stranger, but someone those close to the victim. It may be a relative, or it may be an otherwise caring neighbour.

Powers of Attorney can be abused and funds can be withdrawn and used for other than their proper purpose. Or it may be simple theft. The motivation may be inheritance impatience, and it can involve emotional blackmail and include a failure to provide proper care. Sometimes it involves intimidation and threats. Or it can be a loan guarantor situation gone wrong.

Perhaps it’s a nuance, but a scam is different to a fraud. A scam is more of a trick, while a fraud is a breach of confidence. Scams nowadays are usually online or via call or text, and come from an imposter of one kind or another. Mostly we detect them, but even those with sharp antennae can still fall victim to a major loss. The criminals work a numbers game.

The banks and other corporates are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into strengthening their systems and their ways of doing business, but most often the error resides with the account-holder. The systems, including two-factor authentication, works as designed, and the account-holder has simply been tricked into authorising a transaction they soon deeply regret. The funds move to another Australian bank account, often an account that has been established with false identification, and then the funds are quickly whisked offshore, never to be recovered. As well as a financial knock, it is mentally debilitating to learn that some anonymous criminal has run off with substantial cash.

In my work as a financial planner I need to be vigilant with both the fraudsters and the scammers. In respect of fraud, we use our professional processes and experience to determine whether our client’s best interests are being met. One practical change we have made to combat scams is to no longer email documents as readily openable attachments. Email can be the equivalent of leaving your front door wide open and all your confidential information on your kitchen bench. Good businesses now send this private information via dedicated client platforms backed by robust defences. We also raise awareness via client meetings and webinars. We have worked with institutions like Colonial First State. Here are our favourite tips:

  • Don’t share passwords or personal information, especially with someone you don’t know.
  • Check your bank account and statements regularly.
  • Keep your transfer limits low. Only raise them when you are sure, and do it temporarily.
  • If you feel a phone call sounds in any way suspicious, quickly hang up.
  • Protect your computer with up-to-date virus software.
  • Always use secure websites when shopping online.
  • Let your bank know before you travel overseas.
  • Don’t send money or personal information to people from unusual locations.
  • Avoid swiping your card when making purchases – insert or tap it instead.

The reliable government website is Stay well, stay safe.

Greg Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive of Eureka Whittaker Macnaught –

Your Children Your Insurance

18 April 2023

Our Planner Amber Simpson recently published an article for Women’s Financial Outcomes magazine on the Importance of Personal Insurance.

To read more click here.

Cook around Ku-ring-gai – Standing on the outside

Updated April 1, 2023

IF you have been a candidate or ‘handed-out’ on election day you know what a roller-coaster ride it can be. Setting up starts before dawn. A-frames are strategically positioned and corflutes (the portrait posters) are cable-tied to fences. It ends with complimentary drinks at a local watering-hole, or for the die-hards, in the wee-hours watching your leader concede defeat or claim victory at hotel-central.

The queue grows at 7:50 am. Coloured volunteers abound; blue Liberals, Labor reds, green Greens, teal Teals, and that orange tone that tends to default to the most independent of the independents. Once you have politely acknowledged your rivals, established working relationships with the electoral officials, jostled for the high ground and covered all the entry points, it is game on. Then follows a long day of handing out the 2,000 or so how-to-votes to the throng of the engaged and disengaged. There is the odd old-timer who wants to spark an argument and cause a scene. You field complaints about the wasted paper, with even the well-meaning Greens copping it, despite their planet-saving paper stock. If you suggest an alternate source of information (scanning your QR code), the same folk say that is just far too much trouble!

Despite all the distractions, it is a privilege to see our robust democracy up close. Youngsters with their first vote, and some slowly making what may be their last. Many are in and out as quick as can be, but a few spend half an hour numbering every box on the table cloth sized ballot papers. And don’t forget to remove your political garb, step inside the booth and cast your own vote.

At 6pm you can re-enter to scrutineer the count on behalf of your candidate. The boxes pour out their papers and you can usually eyeball the winning stack from a distance. A surprisingly large pile of informal votes grows, some with nasty messages, some even with a phallic sketch. I’m never sure to whom the latter is directed. Is it a calling card, or about the process, or the incumbent member?

While they didn’t brandish the so-called baseball bats, the men and women of NSW were up for a change by the time election day came around on 25 March. Labor’s predicted majority is looking less likely as the days go by. Locally around Ku-ring-gai the ‘safe’ Liberal seats experienced a swing against them but were never in doubt. Teal independents had their sole success in the leafy Southern Highlands electorate of Wollondilly. In Wakehurst Liberal Toby Williams failed to replace the retiring Brad Hazzard, with Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan winning the race.

Former Treasurer Matt Kean suffered an 8.2% swing in Hornsby. He was a likely candidate in the current Liberal leadership contest, but dealt himself out citing the ‘spend more time with my family’ explanation. Who knows, perhaps there is a local pathway to federal politics for Mr Kean. Meanwhile Wahroonga’s Alister Henskens may turn out to be the new leader of the opposition in NSW. Whoever gets the job, their success will require finding new Liberal relevance to women and men middle-aged and younger.

Greg Cook is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia and was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Cook around Ku-ring-gai – Time for another end?

Updated March 16, 2023

WHEN bowls was at it’s peak in the 1970’s just about every north shore suburb had a thriving club. These days your typical bowls player, a bloke in his 60’s, is more likely to be clad in lycra cycling rather than having a roll-up in his well-pressed whites. Many clubs have closed and councils have fought over rezoning and selling off the land.

West Pymble Bicentennial Club is the latest Ku-ring-gai club on a precipice. The Club only has 30 active pennant bowlers and the two greens cost around $100,000 a year to maintain, and the annual insurance premium is now $31,000. Government Covid payments ($188,000 over two years) staved off the cash crisis. On Sunday 19 February the Club held an extraordinary general meeting that deteriorated into a factional brawl.

There is a rump of unhappy bowlers who would like to see the current directors ousted, but I don’t think those hard-working volunteers are the problem.

Some bowls clubs around Sydney have managed a transition. The Greens of North Sydney, and Leichhardt and Beecroft are a few examples. Bare footed youngsters, live music, and destination dining are the common elements of success.

Ku-ring-gai Council own the site and would need to manage the redevelopment. The Club has had some grants funding but has been unable to reach agreement with Council over any works. The boost of patronage from the synthetic redevelopment of the neighbouring Norman Griffiths Oval may come too late.

Other sports around Ku-ring-gai are facing similar infrastructure challenges. Many sports clubhouses that were built in the 1960’s are now looking tired or downright dilapidated and unfit for purpose. At Lindfield Cricket we are working with Lindfield Rugby to renovate our clubhouse at Soldiers Memorial Park, but a long-running development approval process is far more difficult than it ought to be. The clubhouse hasn’t changed much since it was fashioned together in 1962, long before female players and disability access were design considerations.

The Northern Suburbs Football Association (soccer) has recently had a win with a new grandstand facility at North Turramurra Recreational Area.

They have received $4 million in NSW Government grants and have $2 million of their own funds. Despite a few councillors voting against it, it has just been resolved that the project should proceed.

The closure of the Bicentennial Club will be much more than a loss of a bowls facility, but the social pillar of that precinct of Ku-ring-gai. Let’s hope the tale has a happy Crackerjack turnaround.

Greg Cook is President of Lindfield Cricket and was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Cook around Ku-ring-gai NSW Decides…

Updated March 16, 2023

WITH either result the NSW election on 25 March will break new ground. A coalition loss will see Labor governments in all Australian mainland states and territories, as well as federally. Will Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff cut a lonely blue figure at the next National Cabinet in Canberra, or will Premier Perrottet take the coalition to a record 16 years of government in NSW?

This election occurs in a different political landscape to last May’s federal election. In its three terms the NSW government has had its own controversies and made its own mistakes, but it’s not juggling the potent negatives and lack of narrative that swamped the Morrison government. The corruption and disfunction of the last NSW Labor government also still lingers in the memory of many NSW voters.

This election is likely to be won and lost in western Sydney. The new seat of Leppington and the existing marginal East Hills are two examples where the major parties are focussing their time and money.

Closer to home, and starting at the Harbour and the electorate of North Shore, incumbent Felicity Wilson has a potentially strong challenger in Helen Conway. Member for Hornsby, NSW Treasurer, and moderate, Matt Kean has drawn attention to Ms Conway’s former career as chief legal counsel at Caltex, contrasting this to her switch to environmentalist politician. North to Gladys Berejiklian’s old seat of Willoughby, polling says Tim James faces a threat from independent Larissa Penn.

Over in Wakehurst the retirement of Brad Hazzard has prompted a more open field of candidates including longstanding and popular Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan.

Every two terms the NSW Electoral Commission completes a re-distribution of electoral boundaries. Each electorate is mapped to contain around 60,000 voters. For example, further north the electorate of Davidson now reaches to the suburbs of Gordon, St Ives and North Turramurra, and Ku-ring-gai is now replaced by Wahroonga and extends north-west as far as Westleigh.

Following Jonathon O’Dea’s retirement in Davidson Matt Cross won preselection over Natalie Ward. Ms Ward was seeking to move down from the Legislative Council to the Legislative Assembly. Alister Henskens replaced Barry O’Farrell as the Member for Ku-ring-gai in 2015 and his ministerial responsibilities have grown under Dominic Perrottet’s leadership. While our local Liberals are quick to say they are not being complacent, donation caps, fewer teal dollars, and optional preference voting all mean the threat is less significant than in last May’s Federal election.

Skipping further north, former Australian cricketer and Liberal Nathan Bracken is taking on The Entrance’s Labor incumbent David Mehan. I recently spent some time with Mr Bracken where he reminded me that in 2013 John Singleton backed him to run in Dobell as an independent. This time around he is a Dominic Perrottet captain’s pick.

At the time of writing the Liberal campaign launch had a big reveal – the NSW Kids Future Fund. It’s a co-funded endowment scheme, maturing on a child’s 18th birthday, and redeemable for their home deposit or their education funding. Critics will call it middle-glass welfare, but it may be a winner if it appeals to aspirational young families in the electorates that will determine the election outcome.

Greg Cook is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia and was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Save the Date?

Updated January 16, 2023

THERE are periods of the year when the nation’s media can just press play on last year’s story. The lead up to Australia Day is a cocktail of division and rancour right on cue, and helpfully fills what might otherwise be a slow news January.

When I was growing up, Australia Day was a welcome long weekend that signalled the Christmas holidays were almost over. Back then it still featured barbeques and beers, but it was rare to spot a garish southern cross on a neck, bicep or elsewhere.

Australia Day only became a thing in 1935, and yes, prior to 1994 it wasn’t even specifically celebrated on 26 January, but on the nearest Monday. Since 1960 we’ve also taken the chance to declare an Australian of the Year. In 1967 it was in fact a whole group – The Seekers. In previous decades it was awarded more for popular achievement rather than to promote a worthy cause.

The other day on which we hand out gongs is the King’s Birthday, as it will now be known. Like some of his ancestors, King Charles III was born in the northern winter (14 November), but the Brits prefer a day off in summer. So, in the antipodes we celebrate it in our winter, on the second Monday in June. Ironically this colonial throw-back doesn’t seem to upset anyone. Not even the staunchest of republicans seem interested in fiddling with that holiday.

The change to the 26 January observation fermented the ‘Invasion Day’ sentiment. A few years ago, Triple J’s popular Hot 100 voting and broadcast decided to waltz around the day itself. More recently corporate entities like KPMG have made the holiday optional for employees. They can be part of the corporate ‘journey’, work that day, and celebrate their holiday when it’s ‘more relevant to their beliefs’.

In 2017 two Melbourne Councils didn’t want to hold their citizenship ceremony on Australia Day, and so the Turnbull Government stripped them of the privilege. Last December the Albanese Government gave all Councils their own choice, with some now observing it as a day of mourning.

Whether you think all this is oh so progressive or mere virtue signalling, it is certainly fracturing the tradition of celebration in our great country. The date’s 250th anniversary is only 15 years away. Expect less fanfare than the Bicentenary of 1988, and far more division.

You could think of our continent’s history in three eras. The millennia of Indigenous occupation, the British colonial period through to Federation or the mid-twentieth century, and now our multi-cultural epoch. An elegant solution may be to move our national day back to the last Monday in January. Perhaps that’s something we could all celebrate together.

Greg Cook was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Celebrating 100 Years of Cricket at Lindfield

Updated November 1, 2022

THE Great War, as it was named at the time, lost such a high percentage of boys and men that almost no Australian family or community was without grief. The story goes that local Lindfield men in the Somme promised each other that if they were fortunate enough to make it back home, they would band together to build a local cricket oval for their community’s recreation and leisure. That is as grass roots as it gets.

Seven esteemed local businessmen were photographed in three-piece suits amongst the eucalypts in 1907. The North Shore rail line had opened in 1890, and now the post-war subdivisions were creating East Lindfield. True to their word, the returned diggers had Soldiers Memorial Park gazetted north of Tryon Road at East Lindfield. In those days there was no Archbold Road and the forested parkland stretched down to Gordon Creek.

With horse-drawn earth-moving equipment they fashioned a cricket into the pristine knoll. It was recorded that “the men did the navvy jobs and the women and girls busied themselves providing the applause and tea”. Patronising tones were rarely spared early in the twentieth century!

The soldiers’ plan became real and on 4 November 1922 when Major General Sir Charles Rosenthal and a troop of scouts and crowd of locals declared the Park and Gates open so the local “young bloods could exercise and play” on the oval, as The Sun recorded it in October 1922. Sir Charles was a famous soldier of Gallipoli and more, an architect, a musician, a bankrupt and a politician.

The Lindfield District Cricket Club was then founded at an inaugural meeting on 18 July 1923, and play began that summer. Lane Cove and Lindfield are the two remaining foundation clubs in the Sydney Shires competition.

In its 100 years the club has taught tens of thousands the love of the game. It has produced some great cricketers, no better example than former Australian Captain Mark Taylor. Mark’s family had moved up from Wagga Wagga in 1978 and they lived for a time at 17 Grosvenor Road before building a house at Epping. The 15-year-old joined Lindfield’s A grade team and went on to score a couple of hundreds, but he probably has a more vivid memory of the Saturday where he was run-out for a diamond duck. Peter Toohey also played for Lindfield in the late 1980s following his Australian first-class career.

On this upcoming Saturday 5 November at 8:30am there will be a civic ceremony commemorating the centenary of the Soldiers Memorial Park and Gates. Ku-ring-gai’s Mayor Jeff Pettett and NSW Sports Minister Alister Henskens will be amongst the special guests. You are welcome to join us. That evening, after playing local rivals Roseville in four grades, Lindfield will celebrate its centenary at a gala black-tie dinner at Killara Golf Club, hosted by Foxtel’s Nick McArdle, a Roseville local.

Greg Cook is President of Lindfield Cricket and was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Self-managed or self-deluded?

Updated September 1, 2022

IN the last few decades in Australia we have seen an explosion of the number of Self-Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSFs), although that total has started to decline in recent years. Rather than leave your balance in a public offer fund; the likes of Cbus, Aware, or Colonial First State, you can talk to your friendly accountant or specialist financial adviser and set up your own fund. It sounds appealing to many, especially self-employed people who may have done well with their other entrepreneurial endeavours. The ‘lazy’ $500,000 or so that they and their spouse have sitting in super can be a honey-pot too sweet to resist. To a limited extent SMSFs can also borrow, so you can add gearing to the mix of volatile ingredients. This can move you along way up the risk and return trade-off curve.

An SMSF can have up to six members, and so your children or other family can also join you for the journey. Up until last year it had been limited to four. However when you sit back and think about the financial independence you are actually trying to achieve, the SMSF may be a path you’ll regret trekking down.

When thinking about using an SMSF as the product solution for a client, there are three boxes I like to tick.

The first is the client’s own suitability to be a trustee. Trustees usually engage advisers, but ultimately they are the individuals responsible for the fund achieving its investment and other objectives, and keeping their fund swimming between the government’s compliance flags.

The second is whether there is a compelling asset related reason motivating a client to utilise an SMSF. A common one is residential property, or something called ‘business real property’. The latter is where say a mechanic or dentist uses their super to purchase a business premises (the workshop or surgery). Their business itself can then rent that asset from their SMSF.

The third is size. It matters because of a concept called management expense ratio. All up it may cost you around $10,000 pa to run your SMSF. If the total balance is $1,000,000, that cost is 1% pa, and is probably okay. If the balance is only the $500,000 I mentioned above, that cost is 2%, and getting very expensive. Some ‘wealth accumulator’ clients are convinced their prospects are on a steep rise, and their balance will soon breach $1,000,000 anyway, but often in reality this can take a decade or two, and that’s a long time for your major nest egg to be weighed down by high costs.

In recent years my financial planning practice has been involved in closing far more funds than it has opened. Why is that? Sometimes they are funds that should have never existed in the first place. Their suburban accountant may have set up the fund – for them it’s another set of accounts to manage and bill, perhaps including another company as the SMSF’s corporate trustee. Or it may have been set up for good reason, but as the client progresses through their retirement years, the complexity is no longer worth the trouble.

Some SMSFs are set up under conflicted advice and result in very poor client outcomes. Dixons is the latest alleged case working its way through complaint processes, class action, and potential compensation.

I’ll leave you with one extra thought about risk and return trade-offs. As you take more risk with your life savings, the extra ‘alpha’ potential diminishes. It’s a principle like gravity, and if somebody tries to convince you that the gravity is different in their adventure sport, don’t believe them!

Greg Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive of Eureka Whittaker Macnaught. Email Greg:

Disclaimer: The information in this article is of a general nature. It is not personal advice and does not account for individual circumstances. Before making any financial decisions see a licensed financial planner, or talk to your super fund trustee. 

Cook around Ku-ring-gai – Flagging priorities

Updated August 1, 2022

IF I had asked you to draw the NSW flag, how would you have fared? I don’t recall it from the school curriculum, and can’t remember seeing it up close, so I would have guessed it included some State-of-Origin blue, a waratah and union jack here or there, and maybe a southern cross star or two? I would have mostly been wrong. Vexillologists (flag experts if you’re understandably unaware) will be dismayed about the ignorance.

Last month the NSW Government was in the throes of spending $25M on a third flagpole for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. No, that number wasn’t a typo. This was to fly an Aboriginal flag alongside the Australian and NSW flags. As a boating person I certainly value them – handy to glance skyward and take stock of the day’s wind strength and direction, but one does work just as well as three for that purpose.

You could see that Premier Perrottet didn’t quite believe his own words as they left his mouth. “I don’t know [why it costs $25M], but it does apparently”, he explained. He was also miffed that it was taking more than two years to install. The good people of NSW began wondering whether it was a good use of their hard-earned dollars.

It was fertile ground for punters to criticise. Firstly, every New South Welshman and woman well knows the location. In fact, most of the planet could probably picture the spot. Many have stood right there on their Bridgeclimb. Secondly, it’s a relatively low-tech undertaking. Flagpoles and their flags have been getting hoisted for a few centuries now, so the layperson could imagine the scope of the work. Sure, it would be quite an engineering undertaking – high grade steel, pre-fabrication, big cranes, lane closures, you name it. But even Dr Evil’s company Virtucon, of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery fame, would struggle to demand “twenty-five million dollars” for the project.

Then someone in the government must have encountered Edward de Bono’s principles of lateral thinking while completing their professional development hours. The actual solution was to spend next to nothing and move the NSW flag to Macquarie Street, and fly the Aboriginal flag in its place.

Why is public money overspent on ludicrous projects, sometimes providing solutions to problems that don’t exist? By definition contractors are dealing with a bureaucracy, often subject to changing political influence. Review, misstep, prevarication ensue. Contractors readily admit to adding a handsome margin to their tenders and quotes. Experience tells them the deal is more likely to be prolonged and difficult.

There are career risks for public servants if they act with haste and make an error, but unlike much of the commercial world, little reward for being pragmatic, balancing risk and return, backing professional judgement, skipping a redundant step, and prioritising quick decisions.

Now and again, fraud or corruption can be the cause. ICAC has three former Hurstville councillors currently under investigation for allegedly receiving bribes and colourful Chinese sojourns in exchange for green-lighting property developments. ICAC has referred current NSW parliamentarian John Sidoti to the Director of Public Prosecutions for potential criminal charges over the redevelopment of the Five Dock town centre. Former Deputy Premier John Barilaro is subject to a parliamentary inquiry over his plum New York appointment. Former NSW Labor Ministers (Eddie Obeid et al) are about to face another round in the courts, even though NSW Labor were kicked out of government over a decade ago. And that’s just July.

While corruption and wasteful spending on capital works receive media attention, I suspect there’s as much public money blown on obscure recurring expenses. And yes, vast sums are wasted in the private world too – I have seen a few IT projects that finished years late, and back where they started.

No doubt there are many other metaphoric flagpoles hiding in our local, state and federal governments. Soaking up funds that could otherwise be used on meritorious projects. Let me know on if you have a good local example.

Greg Cook was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

The $64,000 Question

Updated August 1, 2022

IN July “peoples advocate” Super Consumers Australia (SCA) published new figures on how much money you need when you retire. They found that you can get by on far less than the existing guidelines suggest. If you own your own home, are part of a couple that stays together, and have living expenses of no more than $64,000 pa (after-tax), the SCA says you need only $402,000 in savings to retire at 65 years. That income partly comes from the age pension at 67 years. A couple can currently receive up to $38,709 pa in age pension by the way.

While the earnest maths from the SCA will be accurate, their findings lack some real-world experience. I’ve written previously about three phases of retirement. Phase one is often from your mid to late 50s when you step back from big hours and a stressful role. If you can take that through to your late 60s, you can really build your retirement savings through a combination of factors – you are still contributing to super, it will grow with an above-inflation return, and your phases two and three (full retirement and your latter years) are therefore shorter. In phase two you probably have plenty of time on your hands, and if you’re in good health, plenty of spending capacity. Many people are accustomed to spending far more than $64,000 pa pre-retirement, and it doesn’t simply dial down when you stop work.

New experiences can take priority over new possessions. If you’re doing a big overseas trip every year or two, even without turning left as you board the aircraft, you’ll probably need to allow an extra $20,000 pa.

There are a bunch of unforeseen events and other nice to haves that can also make that $402,000 turn out to be insufficient. If you are in an over 55s village or another flash strata development, your quarterly levies are significant. If you’re still in your family home, maintenance and repair costs are never-ending. Not every cost is heading north though. Even with high fuel costs, and the possible capital outlay of going electric, motor vehicle expenses aren’t what they were in past decades.

Nice to haves can include helping your adult children. Perhaps it’s a $50,000 home deposit each to get them to fly the coop. Or maybe it’s a bigger boat that has long been on your bucket list.

In my professional experience retirement shocks can emerge from quite a few directions. Care expenses for a loved one. Illness, accidents, fires and flood are few life events that can diminish your next egg too. And insurance doesn’t always put you back where you were. Separation and divorce sometimes occurs once children are reared and individuals are casting ahead to the next stage of their life.

If you are not getting your needs professionally modelled, estimate what you think you need, then add a healthy margin of error! Better for your money to outlive you, than for you to outlive your money. Life is never as neat as planned.

Greg Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive of Eureka Whittaker Macnaught

The information in this article is of a general nature. It is not personal advice and does not account for individual circumstances. Before making any financial decisions see a licensed financial planner, or talk to your super fund trustee.

Will retirement be easy under Albanese?

Updated July 1, 2022

MANY developed countries use tax concessions to encourage their workers to provide for their own retirement. In Australian we call it superannuation, and it’s been around longer than you might think – an antecedent of the ANZ Bank started a scheme in 1842. You or your employer lock away contributions throughout your working life, invest in assets that will grow more quickly than the rate of inflation, and the compounding returns will move you away from Centrelink and closer to self-funded retiree status. Along the way it can also protect you or dependants from your death or disability.

People worry about the government changing the rules. In my 30-year career as a financial planner I have provided advice to thousands of pre-retirees. A reoccurring conversation relates to this legislative risk. And yes, plenty of rule changes have occurred over the past decades. For the most part though they have not been retrospective and they have been of net benefit of the baby boomers, and now a pre-retirement generation x.

Until the mid-1980s it was mostly the perk of the public servant or corporate salary-earner. Hawke and Keating increased the coverage as part of their wage accords with unions, and then from 1992 superannuation arrived for virtually all. Initially it was a modest 3% of earnings, rising to 9% where the increasing rate stalled for a decade or so. With over three trillion dollars now locked away, it’s perhaps Keating’s largest legacy.

In the early days of the Howard government Treasurer Peter Costello’s budget repair jolted high income earners with a superannuation surcharge. The most significant modern reforms to superannuation though were announced by Mr Costello in his May 2006 federal budget. Tax treatment was reduced to zero for taxed superannuation pensions going to those over 60 years.

So where does that backstory leave us for 2022 and beyond? Labor’s small target campaign policies means that legislative risk in this term should be low for pre-retirees and retirees. Not quite the “jackboot of socialism” that comedy duo Roy Slaven & HG Nelson have satirically described the new government’s plans.

In the May election the Coalition’s point of difference on superannuation policy was to give first home buyers substantial early access to their preserved balances. Similar to the access that was allowed during the darkest days of the pandemic. Access to your own money is part of liberal philosophy, so this may be revisited again.

The superannuation guarantee is about to tick over to 10.5%, and will then notch its way to 12% in 2025. This is a substantial additional burden for employers during rising remuneration expectations.

The legislated “Stage 3” income tax cuts in 2024 will move most Australian workers to a top marginal tax rate of only 30% plus the Medicare Levy. Walking this back may be a budget repair temptation too difficult to ignore for new Treasurer Jim Chalmers.

Although interest rates are heading north, deeming rates have been frozen for two years. This means many will maintain a larger fortnightly Centrelink Age Pension. Along with this is an increased income eligibility threshold for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. In other words, many that can’t qualify for the Aged Pension will at least have the Health Card. In another social security benefit the assets test exemption that applies to home sale proceeds will move from one year to two.

Speaking of home sales, the downsizer superannuation contribution opportunity will now be extended to those as young as 55 years. The downsizer means up to $600,000 into super for a couple selling their home that they have owned for longer than 10 years. For those with ample savings the downsizer is also a means of placing more than the usual $3.4 million into super.

New Treasurer Jim Chalmers plans to hand down his first budget this October. If a week is a long time in politics, a three-year term is an eternity. When the rules are to your advantage it can be best to make hay while the sun shines.

Greg Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive of Eureka Whittaker Macnaught

The information in this article is of a general nature. It is not personal advice and does not account for individual circumstances. Before making any financial decisions regarding your superannuation, see a licensed financial planner or talk to your super fund trustee.

Cook around Ku-ring-gai – Asset Mavericks

Updated July 1, 2022

THE Bureau of Statistics released its Census 2021 report last week. The results from the questions we answered during the Covid lockdown. We are more multi-cultural than ever. 51.5% of us were born outside Australia, or have parents born outside Australia. We are now a less Christian society too, including 39% reporting no religion at all. If that latter trend continues, before long the majority of Australians will be in the no religion category, and this will bring inevitable reforms to the laws that religion has historically influenced.

The Australian population has more than doubled since the early 1970s. They say there are now 25,766,605 Australians, and 126,554 of them live in Ku-ring-gai. Despite the mantra about our ageing population, the Boomers (aged 57 to 76 years) are now outnumbered by Millennials (aged 25 to 39 years). Personally, I fall in-between, I’m a Gen X. My cohort are the adolescents of the 1980s, now queueing at the local cinema to reprise those times in Top Gun Maverick. It was confronting to see that while the rest of us are lined, greyed and stooped, Tom Cruise looks much the same as he did in 1986.

Our population now has a much higher density. In Ku-ring-gai there are 1,481 people per square kilometre and it’s trending higher. More people demand more resources and facilities.

On 6 June I attended the Ku-ring-gai Council Sports Forum. I was there as President of Lindfield Cricket. Senior Council staff provided an update on re-developed ovals and facilities. There were plenty of accomplishments to catch up on from the Covid years.

However there are more green space users than green spaces. A problem the maintenance and project staff cannot solve. With an increasingly overweight population, few would deny that we need every encouragement to be outdoors enjoying all kinds of activity, including organised sport for citizens young and old. Add in the welcome participation of more and more female players, and the ever-increasing demand is a big problem in our district. One victim is the Northern Sydney and Beaches Hockey Association. Diana Brown is the President and as well as speaking at the Sports Forum has recently featured in the Sydney Morning Herald and on ABC radio. Very engagingly she describes their plight. There is no suitable facility on the North Shore or Northern Beaches, so parents a ferrying their kids hundreds of kilometres a week to Homebush and back. Another local example is the hundreds of Lindfield netballers without a home.

Meanwhile local community sport volunteers observe that other Local Government Areas, including in the regions, have superior facilities to those we enjoy on the North Shore. Commonly new facilities are funded by co-contributions from the sporting clubs themselves, associations, State and Federal Governments, and Council.

Our Council is progressively selling off assets, including green space, to make up for a $100M capital shortfall. In these votes we usually see some political nimbyism. Councillors representing the affected local ward rail to keep the asset, while the Councillors from the other four wards, with not much to lose politically, generally vote for the sale and the money, possibly to assist with a new project in their own neck of the woods. When there is an unpopular choice a few blocks away in their own ward, the opposite can occur.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could take a more holistic view of community assets and long-term planning in Ku-ring-gai? And wouldn’t it be great if we could build new facilities such as Marian Street Theatre without relying on selling other assets to fund them?

Perhaps we should look at our recurring expenses and cut our cloth accordingly. In business, if you have organic growth – more customers adding more revenue and profit – you build surplus savings. You don’t sell off one desperately needed asset just so you can fund a new one.

Greg Cook was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Teal tide washes up on the North Shore

Updated June 1, 2022

NO-ONE is a prophet in their own land, at least according to the Gospel of Luke (4.24).

On election day I caught BBC World Service on the car radio and I was interested to hear how the foreign media were observing our election day in Australia. They posited that there were two issues – climate change and the cost of living.

None of the affluent electorates that changed hands that night were struggling to pay the rent or put a meal on the table. The day turned on the former.

History will likely judge 2022 as the coming of age of the federal independents. The ALP has been carried into government with a lower primary vote than it achieved its 2019 election loss. Since World War II Labor has governed for only 26 of the 77 years, and Anthony Albanese is only the fourth Labor leader to win government from opposition.

The win was sufficiently convincing to illicit a 3:29am phone call from Jimmy Barnes, just before Albo headed, via the Governor General, to the rising sun on the next plane out of Sydney.

At the time of writing it is uncertain whether Labor will govern with a majority. Regardless, Mr Albanese will be loath to ignore the multiple rows in the cross benches.

He will also have a diverse Senate to accommodate and a referendum to steward. His honeymoon will be short. The realities of his endless universalities and spending, all while reining in a structural fiscal deficit, will test the competence of this new government. I predict higher taxes will accompany the higher spending.

The father of the independents, North Sydney’s Ted Mack, arrived federally in 1990. He’s well-remembered. In addition to providing sound economic management and lovely bus shelters, he declined overblown superannuation, omnipresent councillor plaques, and the perk of a mayoral car.

Now we are set for a loose grouping of sixteen or so federal independents, including six Teals. I guess time will determine whether a Teal justifies my use as a proper noun.

No shore of Sydney Harbour is represented by a Liberal. Ironically Allegra Spender, elected for Wentworth, is the daughter of Liberal John Spender who Ted Mack defeated in North Sydney in 1990.

In another irony the Teals have stripped the Liberals of many of their moderates. In their once blue-ribbon heartlands in Sydney and Melbourne, the Liberals have given up their voter base. In Queensland where no Teals stood, the Greens filled the vacuum, including Griffith, once the seat of Kevin Rudd. It is unlikely to be a one-off aberration, and it may permeate through to the NSW election in March 2023.

In our own division of Bradfield, Liberal Paul Fletcher has scraped home ahead of Nicolette Boele. Notably election booths on the eastern side of the railway tracks held up better than those along the west.

A chastened Mr Fletcher has conceded the Liberals have given insufficient priority to climate change action, equality and safety issues for women, and a federal anti-corruption body with teeth. The Teal ground. He has also attributed his close call to the $350,000 bankroll of his rival’s Bradfield campaign, although that was one of the Teal’s smaller outlays. This was partly funded by Climate 200 Pty Ltd, which is predominantly funded by Simon Holmes a Court, son of Australia’s first billionaire Robert Holmes a Court. I wonder will his no-strings generosity extend to future elections?

The policy positions that brought on the 2018 Turnbull Morrison leadership change came home to roost for Mr Morrison. For what it’s worth, a vindication for former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in my view. Mr Morrison’s style and other misjudgements over the term meant another miracle was not possible. This time the pollsters were on the money.

The economically conservative and socially progressive deserted the Liberals. Fire and flood focussed voters on overdue climate change action. The female victors garnered a tide of support from voters out of patience. They had stuck in 2019, and were never going to switch to Labor. They were now open to well-credentialled and well-funded Teals.

The Warringah captain’s-pick, Katherine Deves, photogenic and controversial, back-fired on Scott Morrison.

The loss of Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong has left the Liberal leadership open to Peter Dutton. Counter-intuitively, perhaps the hard man of the right can deliver the party back to the new mainstream. Will a man who boycotted the bipartisan apology to the stolen generation go as far as supporting a referendum to enshrine an indigenous voice to parliament in our constitution?

This is an opportunity for the broad church to return to its first principles. Following Sir Robert Menzies first term as prime minister, and prior to founding the Liberals in 1944, he broadcast a series of radio programs on Sydney’s radio 2UE. This was quite the new media form of the time – the podcasts of their day. He famously spoke about Australia’s forgotten people of that time. Not the big end of town, and not the unionists.

I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs or in the officialdom of organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race.

The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.

Menzies’ forgotten constituency took him back to The Lodge for a further seventeen years. The newly formed 2022 cohort of forgotten people just closed nine years of Liberal government.

Greg Cook was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Cook around Ku-ring-gai

Updated May 1, 2022

THE memoir is my reading staple. An avalanche of biography exists beside my desk. Recent pleasures include Troy Bramston’s treatise of Bob Hawke. Mr Bramston was a Labor acolyte. His extensively-researched book reveals new aspects to Hawke’s character, aspects the left have hidden and tried to forget. Unsurprisingly Mr Bramston is more searching than Blanche D’Alpuget’s “work of second-rate hagiography”, as those publications were labelled by Hawke minister Gareth Evans.

David Williamson’s current autobiography Home Truths now sits alongside Behind The Scenes – Kristen Williamson’s 2009 biography of husband David. For many of my generation our first encounter of the playwright’s work was peering over the couch as the grown-ups watched Don’s Party. Set on election night 1969, amongst the revelry, it chronicled the heart-wrenching disappointment of Whitlam supporters.

Another Pentecostal Miracle?

As Paul Keating descended into the 1996 federal election he said “when you change the government, you change the country”. Turns out Australians wanted to change their country.

You may recall the 17-minute preamble from Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor as they announced they had done a deal to install a Gillard Labor government in 2013. A career-defining move for a pair that each hailed from coalition constituencies. The pair are amongst an eclectic mix of former politicians advising the independent hopefuls. Former ABC journalists Jim Middleton and Zoe Daniel are amongst the cadre. Perhaps a couple of successful teal-coloured Climate 200 Pty Ltd-sponsored independent candidates help Mr Albanese change the country this time?

At the time of writing the betting houses are shortening the long odds of a Coalition victory. Their third term has had many challenges and controversies. Eleventh-hour pre-selections the most recent on the long list.

In his first rodeo as alternate prime minister Anthony Albanese is having a hurtling ride. The free-wheeling right-wing mob on “Sky After Dark” describe him as shallow as a car park puddle. Once too left for Hawke and Keating, Mr Albanese has witnessed the achievements and travails of Rudd, Gillard, Rudd, Shorten, Shorten, and has progressively thrown much overboard, including his long-held policy positions on border protection.

A Ku-ring-gai Sea of Blue?

This federal election will be followed by the NSW state election on 25 March 2023. Our local government elections were just a few months ago. Party members, corflute printers, and democracy sausage-makers are experiencing a busy 18 months.

The Electoral Commission tells us record numbers of new voters have enrolled. From Ku-ring-gai to Corangamite. Those with just a passing interest in democracy can be overwhelmed, so here is a potted guide and name-check of the three tiers of government for Ku-ring-gaians:

Our Council has ten Councillors, two from each ward of Wahroonga, St Ives, Comenarra, Gordon and Roseville. Cr Jeff Pettett is our current Mayor. He was once a Liberal Party member. He followed Liberals Cedric Spencer and Jennifer Anderson, who have respectively served the shortest and longest mayoral terms in the 116-year history of the municipality and shire.

Ku-ring-gai Council mostly sits within the NSW electorate of the same name. Alister Henskens replaced former Ku-ring-gai member and premier Barry O’Farrell in 2015 after the unwitting unreconciled evidence of a 1959 bottle of grange hermitage appeared before the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). A re-distribution, a result of a denser population, is moving that seat north west. It will be abolished in 2023, and a new seat of Wahroonga will effectively replace it. Mr Henskens is Minister for Skills and Training and Science, Innovation and Technology.

The southern end the Ku-ring-gai municipality is part the NSW electorate of Davidson. Jonathon O’Dea is the Member, and the current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

Federally the Bradfield Division has a long history in Liberal hands. Prime Minister Billy Hughes was a member for Bradfield, although his party alliances were fluid indeed. Bradfield’s Dr Brendon Nelson reached Opposition Leader in 2007-08, until Malcolm Turnbull loomed.

Current member for Bradfield Paul Fletcher beat a Melbourne Cup field of 17 in his 2009 Liberal Party pre-selection. Mr Fletcher is the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts. He will almost certainly be returned on 21 May. In past elections that sentence would be wasted black ink, but with the rise of the economically conservative, socially progressive independents, many outcomes are less certain. Following the success of Cathy McCowen and Helen Haines in Indi, Dr Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth and Zali Steggall in Warringah, the men of blue-ribbon conservative electorates have an autonomous collective on a new flank.

If Mr Albanese fails to dislodge a weakened Morrison government in 2022, it will be beyond the 1969 proportions of disappointment for the Australian Labor Party.

They say democracies evolve or die. Unlike Don’s friends, drink responsibly and enjoy the night’s theatre. As Winston Churchill told the British Parliament in 1947, “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

Greg Cook was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Capping Out

Updated May 1, 2022

IF you plan to be self-funded and tax-free in retirement there are a few important annual government superannuation caps that you need to know about. If you are taking personal advice, bear in mind the process and implementation takes many weeks, so May is your take action month for this end of financial year.

The big cap lifetime cap to bear in mind is the $1,700,000 “transfer balance cap”. In short, that’s the current maximum you can use to start a tax-free account-based superannuation pension. If you even things up, that’s $3,400,000 for a couple – more than enough to fund a healthy retirement income for the rest of your life!

To help get you on the way there is the annual $27,500 concessional cap (pre-tax) and the $110,000 non-concessional cap (after-tax). These caps are indexed up every five or so years – they were previously $25,000 and $100,000 respectively. The concessional cap includes your employer’s superannuation contributions.

Let consider Sharon – a Hornsby local, 56 years of age, working four days a week and earning $100,000 pa. She has $350,000 in an Aware (formally NSW First State) super account. Sharon is worried about adequately funding her retirement. With some good planning there are turbo-charging strategies she can benefit from. Readers – don’t try these unsupervised at home, they should be implemented with professional advice!

Sharon’s Carry-Forward Contributions  

As Sharon’s super balance was under $500,000 at 30 June last year she can make use of her unused concessional caps back to 2018-19, when this new five year maximum carry-forward rule took effect.

Sharon has accumulated surplus savings in her mortgage offset account. She has just been relying on her employer’s super contributions of $10,000 pa in recent years.

As a result, she can catch-up on three years of concessional contributions (three times $15,000, so $45,000 all up). Adding the additional 2021-22 contribution ($17,500, taking her to $27,500), there is a $62,500 tax deductible super boost for Sharon this financial year.

What’s the upside for Sharon? Instead of incurring $21,250 in income tax, she incurs just $9,375 in super contributions tax. A net tax benefit of $11,875 – money that would otherwise be lost forever to the tax office is now boosting her super account. Not a bad little arbitrage!

Sharon’s Bring Forward Contributions

Sharon’s elderly widowed mum passed away just before Christmas last year. The estate is $1,500,000 and is being shared equally between her, her sister and her brother. Sharon might use some of her $500,000 to extinguish the mortgage on her house – she has always thought being debt-free was a good objective.

Sharon is also curious about the option of adding some of those funds to her super. She knows about the $110,000 non-concessional cap, and has heard about a “bring forward” strategy. The bring forward allows eligible people to do three years contributions at once, so $330,000 all up. There are a couple of extra tactics that Sharon could also employ. One is to just make a $110,000 contribution now, and do the “bring forward” this July, thereby getting $440,000 into super within a few months. Tactic number two is to set up a second account to receive these non-concessional funds – during retirement it can be important to keep your concessional and non-concessional components in separate buckets, but that’s a strategy for another day.

Greg Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive of Eureka Whittaker Macnaught you can reach Greg by email.

The information in this article is of a general nature. It is not personal advice and does not account for individual circumstances. Before making any financial decisions regarding your superannuation, see a licensed financial planner or talk to your super fund trustee. 

Environmental, Social and Governance, and Responsible Investing

Updated April 1, 2022

THERE are countless ways of describing investment styles, investment classes and investment methods. Domestic and global. Low-cost passive/index versus higher cost active. Currency hedged or currency unhedged. Value investing verses growth investing, and so on. One of the fastest growing “filters” is Responsible Investing (RI).

What is RI?

It means taking account of environmental issues (pollution, climate change, water and other scarce resources), social issues (local communities, employees, health and safety), corporate governance issues (prudent management, business ethics, strong boards, appropriate executive pay) and other ethical issues. ESG (environmental, social and governance) is the latest initialism that is commonly used. Corporates talk about their ESG values, and investors talk about their RI.

RI has entered into the mainstream of global finance. It has seen a significant rise in popularity, growing by 30 percent in 2020 alone. There has been a paradigm shift in awareness of the impact of ESG issues and the long-term sustainability of financial assets as a whole.

It’s about moving away from a narrow, short-term focus on financial returns and recognising the ability for investors to use their wealth to promote positive societal impact and corporate responsibility – all while earning a competitive long-term return. It has become increasingly attractive alternative for millennials and socially-aware investors who prefer to invest in companies with intrinsic values that drive positive change.

How does RI relate to your investment objectives and do these ethical filters negatively affect performance?

RI is a type of active investment. Active investing means you are paying for decisions to be made on your behalf. This involves costs that do not exist when an investment product is simply buying into an index such as the ASX200.

Increasingly though, there are new generation RI products which can implement filters at a relatively low cost. As the popularity continues to rise it is expected that any differential in fund performance will also continue to diminish.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are forfeiting net financial performance. Whilst no-one can see into a crystal ball and predict the future, empirical evidence suggests that RI funds can perform just as well, if not better than their relevant benchmarks.

For example, 2020 saw performance of many funds tumble, as economies and financial markets across the globe experienced the impact of COVID-19. Despite this, RI funds outperformed both the international share and multi-sector growth funds in that year*.

How can I add RI to my portfolio?

There are a range of financial products available for consumers looking to invest responsibly. Here are three tips:

Switch-up your super: You are generally unable to spend your superannuation until you retire, as an investor with an account-based (rather than defined benefit) fund you have power to choose who manages the money and how it is invested. You can ask your super fund and see if there are any ethical investments options available. Those in the account-based superannuation pension stage can do the same.

Build your own portfolio: Fund managers now offer Responsibly Invested Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) that are invested in a diverse range of securities. There is a range responsibly invested ETFs available, which offer investors access to low-cost, diverse products outside of super.

Talk to a specialist financial planner: Professional advisers will have an ethical checklist that they can assist you in completing. It’s about your preferences and objectives, not theirs. Planners have a best interest duty to their clients – interest in you, and disinterest when it comes to matching you to any product that may be part of their recommendations.

* Responsible Investment Association Australia.

Greg Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive of Eureka Whittaker Macnaught –

The information in this article is of a general nature. It is not personal advice and does not account for individual circumstances. Before making any financial decisions regarding your superannuation, see a licensed financial planner or talk to your super fund trustee. 

Cook around Ku-ring-gai For the Love of Mary

Updated April 1, 2022

A FEW years ago I completed a short leadership course at Cambridge University. The curriculum focussed on the art of people management in the context of a professional services firm. One of the professors shared his matrix for rating executive performance. The descriptors were saints, stars, jerks and dogs. Not the terms I would have used, but there you are. You can probably name a few that have worked for you, you have worked for, or alongside.

Stars were in the top right, and the sweet spot for delivering great value to clients and shareholders. If a star executive flamed out, it was likely in the direction of the jerk quarter. We could also probably think of a rock star, business-person, sports star, bushranger or war hero that history has judged as shifting from star to jerk.

Marian Street Theatre Redevelopment

As you might guess, the saints were the well-intentioned, trying to please all with revision and perfection, and hesitant to nail their colours to the mast. They are not pragmatists. When the bouquets for “on time and on budget” are handed out, they are not often called forward. If you have a big project with tight timelines and a finite cost, you don’t want too many saints in your corner.

In Ku-ring-gai there are few projects bigger than the Marian Street Theatre redevelopment. In my last column I was critical of our Council’s February vote to suspend the project for up 90 days while mystery experts and philanthropists re-visited the design. Another Marian (St Mary) intercession.

At Council’s March meeting Mayor Pettett put up a notice of motion to reverse the February decision. He invoked a “back to the future” reference, but the DeLorean and its flux capacitor were not needed for this short 30-day time travel. The ensuing debate dominated the one hour and eleven-minute Council meeting. During the to and fro Council’s General Manager was asked when the project had begun – 14 years was his best estimate. His answers also confirmed this new delay was already costing rate-payers.

The motion to rescind was carried six to four. The four against were Councillors Lennon, Alec Taylor, Greg Taylor and Ward.

I asked Save Marian Street Theatre chair John Townend about the background of this turn of events. He said his group’s concerns related to the future commercial viability. “I thought the review was worthwhile. Anyway, I’m also pleased things are moving along. Hopefully there is money in their May budget. We want it to be a great asset for the next 50 years”.

Around Lismore

As the Northern Rivers swelled I was returning south from a school reunion of Trinity College in Lismore. Within a few days I was northbound again, this time laden with jerry cans and other emergency supplies. We have all seen the devastation. Soldiers on streets, choppers in the air, pressure cleaners buzzing, and earth-moving equipment tragically scooping household after household of belongings. Lismore Council’s General Manager said on local radio that even all of Council’s equipment is gone “we don’t even own a whipper-snipper any more”.

I am a Bruce Springsteen fan, and my versions of The Boss’s lyrics regularly bounce around my addled mind as I drive around… white-washed windows and vacant stores, across the railroad tracks, talk about getting out, son take a good look around, this is your hometown…

Along with hundreds of other buildings from the Clarence to the Tweed, this high school may now be condemned for demolition. The school sits below the diocese’s neo-gothic catholic cathedral, built from 1892 atop a hill. It is one of Australia’s finest regional cathedrals, and is hitherto untouched by the record floods of 1954 and 1974. This time the pews floated to a pile in the aisles. Now the 2022 height will be indelibly marked on the walls.

The reconstruction decisions will account for the damage and repair costs, insurance contracts and assessments, and the chance of a similar “one in how ever many years” event in the coming decades.

At our own recent Council meeting Mayor Pettett successfully moved a motion for Ku-ring-gai to donate $5,000 to the recovery effort. Well done him. Along with many other donations large and small, in kind and in cash, it will make a difference on the long hard road to recovery, whatever recovery will ultimately look like. Perhaps city blocks will be re-purposed to parkland, and the sunlit uplands of the city’s suburban Goonellabah will in future be city central.

Greg Cook was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

Removing Superannuation Death Tax

Updated March 1, 2022

WHEN it comes to investment asset allocation, perhaps you just love property.

The construction of your equity portfolio might be the best around, or it’s a low-cost passive investment in the index. The next person may still think cash is king, or bitcoin will inexorably rise, or emu eggs are the next big thing. One investment strategy you can be sure of though, is a tax-free environment is better than a taxed one.

Since the Peter Costello federal budget changes of May 2006 older Australians have been enjoying non-assessable income from their account-based superannuation. Retirees can withdraw lump sums and receive regular pension payments, and none of this is subject to income tax.

More recently new caps have meant we’re each currently limited to $1.7 million dollars in that zero-tax retirement pension world. A couple would need to be living quite the champagne life if $3.4 million does not provide you an adequate retirement income!

Somewhat confusingly though, Australians still have both tax-free and taxed components in their superannuation. For retirees, these don’t affect you while you’re alive, but when you are deceased, they may.

When you shuffle off this mortal coil your superannuation can pass to your spouse tax-free. When the “surviving spouse” passes away the taxable component of any  superannuation and retirement pension accounts, if passing to a “non-tax dependant”, is subject to 15% tax, plus the medicare levy and any other budget-repair type levies the government has handed down at the time. We financial planners tend to assume a total tax rate of 17%.

Who is a non-tax dependant? An adult child is likely to be, and so too for example is a charity. So, if the deceased’s super and pension accounts are 50% taxable and 50% tax-free, and let’s say their balance is $1 million, then $85,000 ($500,000 x 17%) will be lost to the Australian Tax Office.

If you live a long life, chances are you will have drawn down on most of your superannuation balance, so the dollar amount of the tax may be low. If you are single, or already a widow or widower, this is potentially a more immediate issue. Later in life a strategy for smaller balances can be to withdraw the funds from super before passing away.

The good news is this tax on your estate can be minimised. For many years “re-contribution” strategies have enabled pre-retirees and retirees to make it virtually disappear. This is possible as older Australians have the opportunity to withdraw from their super, as well as add to it. When amounts are withdrawn they come proportionately from the existing tax-free and taxable components. So, in my above example, a $110,000 withdrawal would take $55,000 from each component. When the individual then makes “non-concessional” (after-tax) contribution back into super, these are added to the tax-free component.

In this example $55,000 has been converted from taxable to non-taxable, saving potentially $9,350 of future tax. By the way, from 1 July 2022 the government has proposed changes to the superannuation age-based work test, allowing Australians to make further non-concessional contributions right up to age 75, even if they have completely retired.

Greg Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive of Eureka Whittaker Macnaught

The information in this article is of a general nature. It is not personal advice and does not account for individual circumstances. Before making any financial decisions regarding your superannuation, see a licensed financial planner or talk to your super fund trustee. 

Cook around Ku-ring-gai

Updated March 9, 2022

DURING Council’s February meeting Mayor Pettett spoke about the risk of remaining as a “can’t do” Council rather than becoming “can do” one. I sense he is worried the remaining Council term will swing by and no ground will be broken on the log-jam of major community projects. The Lindfield Village Green looks great, but I doubt Mayor Pettett wants this held up as his ribbon-cutting legacy.

Roseville and Gordon Bowls Sites

With a higher population density and apartment living, and more female participation in sport, green space is at a premium.

The first of the substantial community matters up for discussion at Council was the sale of the old East Roseville Bowling Club site, and consideration of the equivalent disused site at Gordon. These clubs have been closed for years and rather than re-purpose them, Council has been looking to sell-up and cash-in, originally counting on $30 million for each site.

The NSW Government altered the zoning from multi-dwelling R3 to the less valuable R2, dramatically lowering the likely windfall to just $11 million each.

It’s not a popular strategy, and impacted Roseville Ward Councillors Sam Ngai and Alec Taylor put forward a motion to review the planned Roseville sale.

This was closely defeated with Mayor Pettett using his casting vote. Council needs the cash, so those sales are now set to proceed, and that green space will be lost for future generations.

Marian Street Theatre

A notice of motion was put to pause this redevelopment while a potential mystery philanthropist re-visits the design with the Save Marian Street Theatre Committee. That too was from the relevant Ward Councillors, Simon Lennon and Barbara Ward.

Council staff confirmed this move was risky, potentially adding years to the project should there be substantial change to the design.

The pitstop itself would likely bring more architectural expense, adding to the $1.2M already expended on the project. The completion cost has already blown out from $9.8 million to $20 million plus. The re-opening had been planned for 2021. The staff also disclosed that some Councillors were not aware that funding for the project does not exist, which is more than a trifling speed hump on the long and winding road to completion.

The other fiscal challenge will be funding the ongoing operating cost deficit.

Norman Griffiths Oval

Councillor Greg Taylor’s notice of motion to delay the new synthetic football field at Norman Griffiths Oval had attracted criticism in the meeting lead-up – halting the re-development was not a part of his policy platform in the December 2021 elections.

The greatest community advocate of this new facility is West Pymble Football Club President Kevin Johnson. Mr Johnson recently compiled a 21-page report promoting the benefits and refuting the environmental concerns and contrarian economics from the anti-synthetic lobbyists. Mr Taylor didn’t endear himself to Mr Johnson when they twice met in October 2021.

Mr Taylor arranged the one-on-ones as a former club member – without disclosing that he was already a registered candidate for the December Council elections. Notably, integrity, honesty and transparency were parts of Mr Taylor’s policy platform.

The oval in question was developed in the 1960s. Norman Griffiths wasn’t a fleet-footed soccer player from yesteryear, but a rugby-loving Ku-ring-gai Council Town Clerk of 50 years’ service. The oval was named in his honour in 1969.

By the way, the topography in that precinct is not as pristine as you may assume. Long before Bicentennial Park opened in 1989 cattle grazed, poultry pecked, strawberries were cultivated and shrubs propagated. Swede Jonas Lofberg’s 30 acres in West Pymble also became a Council quarry for many years where 80 men were employed to remove 80,000 tons of stone.

The area also had an incinerator, designed by Walter Burley Griffin no less. Along with those ashes, residents’ “night soil” and household waste was the fill for the ovals.

As it happens Mr Taylor isn’t the only tall environmentalist musician politician with childhood memories there. Midnight Oil front-man Peter Garrett grew up in Grayling Road. His song-memoir In The Valley is a metaphor of his emotional trials and the local bushland of his childhood. The “Victa-neat” lawns is a neat lyric in the heart-warming song. In his autobiography Big Blue Sky, he fondly recalls his youth around Broadway, as Yanko Road was called back then. Mr Garrett represented his school in athletics and recalls playing soccer and cricket down at the local oval. The West Pymble “Soccer” Club was formed in 1957 when he was about to start school at Gordon West Public School.

Following the assurances provided by Council staff, Councillor Taylor’s (revised) motion was defeated.[1]  The design and construct phase and the review of relevant environmental factors will soon be underway, and the much-needed facility will be redeveloped for future generations. The West Pymble Bicentennial Club, otherwise known as the West Pymble bowlo, will also benefit from the multi-million-dollar facility next door. Councillor Taylor did not respond to requests for comment.

Side Hustle

Councillors also adopted a recommendation to pay themselves the superannuation guarantee, effectively a 10% pay rise that’s set to rise to 12% over the next couple of years. The current Ku-ring-gai Councillor fee is $26,310 pa and the Mayor’s is $96,210. The rate-payer funded superannuation expense will start at $33,300 pa.

Councillors are quick to recuse themselves at the merest chance of a conflict of interest in a charity or some-such, but nobody needed to repair to the ante-room for this most conflicted of votes. Councillor Ngai said the higher remuneration package may assist in attracting better quality Councillors, all the while taking care not to disparage the current crop seated around him.

While not unanimous, this was unsurprisingly passed without rancour. Some Councillors asked could they refuse to receive the payments – I’ll let you know if anyone does!

Greg Cook was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

[1] Correction: Councillor G.Taylor’s motion was amended and passed by the Council, this is reflected in the meeting minutes.

Who Can You Trust With Your Financial Future?

Updated February 1, 2022

From the days of the local bank manager, your accountant, mortgage brokers, bank advisers, to the rise of professional fee-for-service financial planners.

WHEN I grew up in the 1970s in country NSW the town’s bank managers were well-respected pillars of the community. Their bank branches were critical institutions on the high street. If you wanted cash for the weekend, you needed to swing by before the mid-afternoon closing time. They were trustworthy men – remarkedly I don’t think anyone would be able to recall a female in the role. Bespectacled, grey-haired fellows smoking in the corner office. Stevie Wright was singing ‘Evie, parts 1, 2 & 3’ on the transistor radio, and in summer a bloke could stroll home for lunch in his walk shorts and walk socks.

It was handy to have a close relationship. They held sway over the plans and borrowing success of the town’s business people. They freely gave out a ‘banker’s opinion’, their subjective guide to your creditworthiness to anyone who had a reason to ask. They could casually recommend a five-year term deposit over a two-year one. But I haven’t had cause to contact a local bank branch manager in recent decades. I doubt the position even exists in its previous form, even in our far-flung lands of drought and flooding rains.

Back then mortgages weren’t sold to people – you went along to your appointment, cap in hand, hoping they would see things your way. I remember the saying ‘you need to prove you don’t need the money before they’ll approve the loan’.

These days most borrowers use a mortgage broker. They shop your deal to a number of lenders. They get paid by the lender, usually on a percentage-of-loan basis. More loans mean more revenue for the broker.

Accountants remain the natural trusted financial confidante of the individual and small business-owner. Accounting has been recognised as a profession since the origins of double-entry accounting amongst the merchants of Venice. Besides structural work, most accounting, bookkeeping and tax agent work is historic, conducted via the rear-vision mirror. All essential trusted expertise, but it’s all about what happened, not what’s happening or going to happen.

Many Accountants have dabbled in advice, especially as it related to self-managed superannuation funds. In my experience, as superannuation rules and strategy became more complicated, and the regulatory obligations and disciplines of advice increased, accountants had to politely decline donning the advice hat.

Fast forward to the turn of the century and banks recruited or acquired armies of financial advisers. Sales of investment products and life insurance products often adequately filled the advice gap. It was though a poor solution for those searching for objective advice in their own best interest. Post Royal Commission and the fee-for-no service scandals, almost all these bank distribution channels have been subsequently disbanded.

At the same time financial planning itself continued along its long hard road towards professionalism. Although, you could still hang out a shingle after only completing a short course. Infamously this course was “shorter than that of a hairdresser”. And yes, some were cowboys. Not that we should disparage the cattle-mustering and hairdressing professions.

In more recent times “FASEA” (the Government’s Financial Adviser and Ethics Authority, now disbanded) has materially raised the bar for entry into the financial planning profession. All planners, or advisers if you prefer the term, have had to pass a new government exam and complete degree-equivalent tertiary qualifications. New advisers also have to complete 1,600 hours of supervision in a Professional Year. I was fortunate enough to supervise Australia’s first Professional Year graduate.

These requirements have very much cleaned out the incompetent advisers. Arguably it has also culled many older experienced advisers who have decided it’s all too hard, and moved to their own early retirement. Coupled with regulatory overreach and increased costs of practising, adviser numbers have declined dramatically in 2021, all at a time of a growing need for quality advice for our ageing population.

Based on my decades of experience there are a few golden rules when choosing a financial planner you can trust. Ensure they are a member of a professional body – the Financial Planning Association is Australia’s peak body. Opt for somebody who is product agnostic and charges on a fee-for-service basis that is not calculated as a percentage of the assets under advice. Be prepared to pay professional rates for quality advice from an experienced practitioner. If it’s your life savings and financial future, it’s probably worth it.

Greg Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive of Eureka Whittaker Macnaught.

Cook around Ku-ring-gai

Updated February 1, 2022

ON 11 January Ku-ring-gai Councillors elected a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Ku-ring-gai. Jeff Pettett and Cedric Spencer nominated for Mayor. Mr Spencer received three votes – his own, and those of Sam Ngai and Christine Kay. The remaining seven Councillors voted for Mr Pettett. Barbara Ward was elected as Deputy Mayor with the same margin.

Notably, the five Councillors who are members of the Liberal Party did not ‘caucus’ and vote as a bloc. Their votes were split amongst the respective nominees. Perhaps this will be a topic of conversation at upcoming branch meetings and garden parties!

It should also be noted that the five new Councillors all voted for the new leadership pairing. It should also be remembered that Mr Pettett himself was previously a supporter of the brief Spencer/Ngai leadership team which called for the extraordinary Council meetings that failed to reach a quorum.

So, Mr Pettett becomes Ku-ring-gai’s third Mayor in the space of four months. He was first elected to Council in 2012, and this becomes his third term on Council. Mr Pettett has previously served as Deputy Mayor for a period of twelve months.

When I recently interviewed Mayor Pettett he began by welcoming this masthead’s coverage of local government. By way of background, in his professional life Mr Pettett has worked as an accountant and financial controller in various industries. He welcomed the diverse group of new Councillors, noting the new Councillors formed their own opinion on the Mayoral positions.

I asked Mayor Pettett for his key priorities. “A cohesive Council, a back-to-basics focus, clean streets and so on, so that when people drive through the area they appreciate our part of the North Shore. And getting on with the Lindfield Village Hub.” As the position of the General Manager was not mentioned here or at the initial Council meeting, perhaps we can assume John McKee will see out his current term.

Those who follow North Shore local government may wonder why the Hornsby and Willoughby public elect their Mayor, while in neighbouring Ku-ring-gai we only get to elect our ten Councillors. We leave those Councillors to choose our Mayor and Deputy Mayor – the product of backroom discussions and deals. While this method of direct election doesn’t occupy dinner party conversation like say that of the Head of State of a future Australian republic, it is worth exploring.

Of the 122 NSW Councils where the Electoral Commission conducted elections, 34 also elected their Mayor. They will serve for the whole term of the Council, whereas those elected by Councillors (as in Ku-ring-gai) usually serve a term of two years, although on this occasion it will only be through to September 2023.

A community-elected Mayor therefore has more stability of tenure and more of a mandate from the people. On the other hand, with the longer tenure, a community and Council could find themselves stuck for a long time with a poor-performer.

As we’ve seen recently in Ku-ring-gai, a Council-elected Mayor can be subject to a less certain future. As a recent beneficiary Mayor Pettett unsurprisingly endorsed the Council-elected approach, citing the benefit of a grass-roots representative. If Ku-ring-gai was to change to community-elected Mayor, he thinks we could face the possibility of a candidate with deep pockets mounting a major public campaign.

In 2008 Ku-ring-gai did vote in a referendum to change to a popularly elected Mayor. Mayor Pettett recalls there was a ‘No’ campaign mounted, but no real ‘Yes’ campaign.  ‘No’ succeeded with a very narrow 50.07% majority. The vote included an option to increase the number of Councillors from ten to eleven.

This eleven would have been a conveniently odd number for deciding tight votes. One of the recent controversies in Ku-ring-gai was the 5-5 tied vote that brought us the September 2021 ‘lucky dip’ mayoral outcome. This remains a future possibility, not just with choosing leadership positions, but in voting at regular meetings. During the previous Council electoral term a 5-5 vote was not uncommon. I asked Mayor Pettett whether he would exercise his casting vote. “Only as a last resort” was his reply.

Ku-ring-gai Council meets again on 15 February.

Greg Cook was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the 2021 Ku-ring-gai Council elections.

The New Retirement Normal

Updated January 1, 2022

DESPITE Covid and an increasingly overweight population, we are living heathier lives and living longer. Our initial retirement years are staggered – I don’t mean we’re struggling to stay upright, but that we’re transitioning slowly from full time work to part time work, to full time retirement.

In my 30 years of advising pre-retirees and retirees, I’ve noted three retirement phases.

The active stage is from say 55 to 70 years. Naturally everyone’s circumstances and health will vary, but for many it’s a time where the big aspirations and achievements of your working life are behind you, and your weeks are filled with a more balanced mix of activity. You may have heard about that Covid-induced “great resignation” employee trend in the United States. And if you’re in a more physical line of work, you won’t be crawling through the ceilings with quite the same aplomb either. Sometimes career change can be visited upon you by all kinds of influences.

By the way, that’s the age bracket where a good financial planner can add plenty of value. Modelling of how much is enough, re-tuning superannuation contribution strategies, and saving tax are some of the tangible benefits.

Your lifestyle might now include welcoming grandchildren, caring for elderly parents, and ticking some bucket list items such as travel, Covid permitting.

As you morph into stage two, at say 70 to 85 years, lifestyle expenses can plateau. Your retirement nest egg can also be boosted by downsizing your home, although smaller is often not all that cheaper.

You will find the superannuation contribution top-up rules are now more accommodating for you at this life stage. The life expectancy charts tell us 65-year-olds can expect to live to their mid-80s, with females more assured of reaching 90.

If you have partly depleted your retirement savings, it’s the time when your Centrelink age pension benefits may increase to supplement your retirement income. This can be boosted by product strategies such as funeral bonds.

The third stage of retirement naturally involves a lifestyle that is less expansive as well as less expensive. Your income needs can decrease in real terms (after allowing for inflation).

You’re unlikely to be spending big on new cars, boats, caravans and overseas trips, but higher health costs and aged care costs will come along. Increasing asset values (property and equities) have reduced “longevity risk” for many.

Longevity risk is a fancy financial planner term for running out of money before you die. For the fully self-funded retiree that risk can be lower than you might imagine. In fact, it is increasingly common for the opposite to occur – a superannuation pension balance is left to a surviving spouse, and ultimately that widow/widower commonly bequeaths it to adult children.

Whether you’re short on funds and thinking you’ll be working forever, or better placed with plenty of options available to you, planning ahead can alleviate the mental strain of uncertainty.

Greg Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive of Eureka Whittaker Macnaught.

Cook around Ku-ring-gai

Updated January 1, 2022

New Councillors elected for Ku-ring-gai, …a fiver each way

WE now know the results from the from the 4 December Local Government elections. In Ku-ring-gai the winners are Kim Wheatley and Cedric Spencer (Wahroonga), Martin Smith and Christine Kay (St Ives), Barbara Ward and Simon Lennon (Gordon), Jeff Pettett and Greg Taylor (Comenarra), and Sam Ngai and Alec Taylor (Roseville). Five of the ten are new to Council, and five of the ten are members of the Liberal Party.

Covid determined that Ku-ring-gai’s previous term was an extended four years and three months. Jennifer Anderson was Mayor for the initial four years, and became the longest serving Mayor in the Council’s 105-year history. The Council was mostly split five-five during this time, with Mayor Anderson regularly using her casting vote.

The September 2020 election was moved to September 2021, then to December. The second delay allowed a leadership spill to occur, and with a tied vote and a lucky-dip of names in plastic tubes from a timber box, we had new Mayor Cedric Spencer and new Deputy Mayor Sam Ngai. We then saw Council dysfunction reach a new high with five Councillors unable to attend a costly series of extraordinary meetings. The meetings were called to discuss the tenure of Council’s General Manager John McKee, but a quorum of six was never reached.

During the election campaign itself Alister Henskens, Ku-ring-gai MP and Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, made a controversial speech in NSW Parliament bemoaning Ku-ring-gai Council’s performance, and the performance of John McKee, including benchmarking Ku-ring-gai Council against Hornsby Council. Its accuracy was questioned, and although it was widely viewed and created a stir, it’s difficult to quantify its influence on the election. Jennifer Anderson was a target of the speech and was not re-elected in Roseville, however Martin Smith, who also strongly rebutted Mr Henskens’ criticisms, polled far better than he did in 2017. Sam Ngai, who publicly supported the accuracy of Mr Henskens’ comments, also improved on 2017.

In other contests, newcomer musician and environmentalist Greg Taylor polled well Comenarra. Of the primary candidates, and at the other end of the political spectrum, Peter Kelly in Gordon Ward seems to have suffered the largest fall in the polls. You may recall him as Professor Peter Kelly when he ran in 2017.

This time around the Local Government term is only two years and nine months. A short period for a new Council to find stability and make good on a backlog of achievements. The Community Strategic Plan Review is currently calling for public comment, and is then to be adopted in June 2022. Yes, we are unburdened by tight timelines in Ku-ring-gai! High up on the list will be turning a sod at the Lindfield Village Hub and at the new Marian Street Theatre. These were major election issues in 2017 and they were again in 2021. Will we see progress before 2024? Stopping the sale of Council’s green space, creating an affordable housing policy, and halting the construction of synthetic fields are amongst the other promises our new Councillors have made.

The new Council will meet for the first time on 11 January. The Councillors will elect a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor. Between the Christmas ham, seafood and champagne the jockeying for these leadership positions will be on in earnest. Will Cr Spencer have the support of his new fellow Liberals? Who knows, those two leadership positions may be filled by two of the five new Councillors. The tenure of the General Manager will presumably be the second item of business.

Hopefully this time the plastic tubes and the timber box can remain in the cupboard. The Ku-ring-gai ratepayers, residents, and interest groups will be watching all this with a keen eye, focussed on community outcomes, not infighting.

Greg Cook was a candidate for Gordon Ward in the Ku-ring-gai Local Government elections.