Dr Bronwyn King
The Australian Women's Weekly|May 2020
As a young oncologist Bronwyn King was shocked to watch the majority of her patients die from smoking-related cancer, so when she discovered most super funds were brazenly investing in the tobacco industry she had to take action.
JULIET RIEDEN

Bronwyn King is a doer, a fixer and a nurturer. Her passion and energy are contagious and her calm diplomacy, coupled with uncompromising vision, is the stuff we long for in our politicians. As a doctor she has a brilliant evidence-based scientific brain, and as a mother – of Oliver, eight, and Charlie, six – she feels compelled to make a better world for everyone’s children.

In March 2010 Bronwyn had an epiphany that changed her life and is now changing the world. “I was buying a house with my partner [who is now her husband]. I sat down with the accountant who said ‘you need to sort out your money; how much do you have in your pension plan?’ I shrugged my shoulders. I had no idea. I knew that superannuation existed but that was it. I was working as a cancer specialist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. I’d been a doctor for 10 years and so I’d been a member of a super fund for 10 years and I’d not thought about it at all, which is unfortunately very typical.

“Because of that meeting I organised to talk with a representative from the super fund. We met at the cafeteria and he brought along some paperwork to show me how much money I had. I remember having a latte and a little conversation and then I shook his hand, the meeting finished and I left.”

As she walked back to the lung cancer ward she was working on, where patients of all ages were daily taking their last breath, a niggling thought entered Bronwyn’s head and she turned on her heel and rushed back to the cafe and her super rep. “I said to him, ‘oh by the way, was I meant to tell you what to do with that money?’ He said, ‘no, no, it’s all taken care of, you’re in the default option.’ …‘Option? Does that mean there are other options?’ she replied. He rolled his eyes: ‘well, there is this one ‘greenie’ option for people who have a problem with investing in mining, alcohol or tobacco’.”

And then it happened. Fireworks, thundering horses, flapping angels’ wings, shock. Bronwyn gasped, uttering, “Did you just say tobacco? Are you telling me I’m currently investing in tobacco?” He said, ‘Oh yes, everyone is!’”

Bronwyn was rooted to the spot, incredulous at what she was hearing. “I just couldn’t believe it. There I was, going to work every single day in the biggest cancer centre in the Southern Hemisphere, which is filled with people suffering as a result of tobacco. One-third of all cancers globally are caused by tobacco. And I’d seen the raw suffering, right in front of my eyes for years and years, and yet then I found out my own money was invested in the companies that make the products killing my own patients.”

Bronwyn’s was the super fund for most of the health professionals at her hospital. The irony was stark and dark. “I distinctly remember thinking, that’s got to change. I just can’t accept that. I cannot let that go.”

Fighting spirit

Bronwyn has always been driven. From the age 12 she was a competitive swimmer, training 10 times a week with a dream of maybe going to the Olympics. “I represented Australia at a junior level. I was a freestyle sprinter and when I think of my youth, that’s what I think of,” she says smiling.

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