Cbus remembers Tom McDonald AM


Cbus Super, our staff, trustee directors, partners and sponsoring organisations, are deeply saddened by the news of Tom McDonald’s passing this weekend. Tom was a pioneer of Australia’s universal workers’ superannuation scheme.

Cbus salutes Tom for his vision, commitment, and for the impact that he made as a tireless campaigner for improving the lives of working people.

Cbus Super Chair Wayne Swan said Tom McDonald leaves a unique legacy of nation changing economic reform, “Tom’s leadership was key to the creation of the universal superannuation system Australian’s enjoy today.

“Tom McDonald leaves a $3.4 trillion legacy, spread across the retirement accounts of millions of Australian workers.

“Australians enjoying secure retirements owe a big debt to Tom’s industrial leadership.

“Very few in public life have made such a lasting contribution to the social and economic fabric of our nation.”

Tom was central to the creation of Cbus 38 years ago. He was actively involved in the Building Workers Industrial Union (BWIU) from the start of his apprenticeship on the Sydney docks in 1944 and climbed to the top of the union movement. In 1984 when Tom was the Federal Secretary of the BWIU he paved the way for the first national superannuation scheme. The campaigns of the building unions and their members with the ACTU in the early 1980s led to the creation of an industry based occupational superannuation scheme for building workers, and enabled the creation of a legislated universal super system in 1992 by the Keating Government. The building unions’ fund, the prototype of industry super funds, was initially called BUSS (which merged with an allied fund AUST in 1994 to become Cbus). Tom was a founding trustee director of BUSS. Within six months, BUSS had 800 employers and 30,000 members.

Tom led his union in the campaign for a wage increase which would be invested until retirement, instead of a take home pay increase. Tom’s vision of the long term benefits led to many other unions supporting the occupational superannuation proposal, then joined by employer groups. Tom and his peers played a key role in establishing the consensus based trustee structure, which is at the heart of industry super funds – the equal representative model whereby unions jointly run the retirement savings of members with employer groups.

Tom spoke passionately to Cbus staff in 2019, at the age of 93, about his determination to see construction workers retire in comfort and dignity, where he said, “I have often thought what would Australia be like if the trade union and labour movement had been defeated in their attempts to achieve universal superannuation. Millions of Australians, some now retired, some now in the workforce, and some who will in the future be in the workforce, would not have a decent retirement income.”

In 1984 it may not have been fully appreciated just how visionary the creation of BUSS was. The members that Tom led were campaigning to win super for the benefit of future generations, including the 850,000 members in Cbus today. Thirty-eight years on, the significant long term benefits of occupational super, both in terms of improving the standard of living for retired Australians and providing an important source of capital for the economy are clear. Tom never lost his passion for super. Cbus, the super sector and our economy have much to thank Tom and his peers for.

Cbus extends its sympathy to Mr McDonald’s wife Audrey, his family and loved ones.


Media enquiries: Elisabeth Bowdler, 0412 112 374, elisabeth.bowdler@cbussuper.com.au


United Super Pty Ltd ABN 46 006 261 623 AFSL 233792 as Trustee for the Construction and Building Unions Superannuation Fund ABN 75 493 363 262 (Cbus and /or Cbus Super). Refer to Cbus Product Disclosure Statement, Target Market Determination and Financial Services Guide for more information.