House debates

Tuesday, 1 December 2015


Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day 2015) Bill 2015; Second Reading

12:47 pm

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion for the second reading of the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day 2015) Bill 2015, and I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"the House declines to give the Bill a second reading because the Bill contains provisions which make it easier for employers to flout their superannuation guarantee obligations, and notes that this is yet another attempt by the Government to undermine Australia's superannuation system".

Our approach to this legislation is guided by one objective above all: to see that Australian workers get paid the super that they need and deserve on time. It says it all about this government that they dismiss the fair and timely payment of superannuation as 'red tape' to be discarded with the full stops and commas of another so-called repeal day. It says it all about this government that, when there is a serious and growing problem with the nonpayment of super in this country, they impose unnecessary and unwarranted changes which will actually make the problem worse. It says it all about this government that, when given the choice between doing the right thing by Australian employees and a shady deal that duds workers, they go for the latter whenever they can. That is what the core of this bill is all about.

Labor does not and will not support the attack on the super payments Australian workers are entitled to by law—payments that are so important to their prospects for a secure retirement.

It is obvious to anyone who comes to this issue in an objective way—in an open-minded way; in a fact based, evidence based way—that there is a problem with employer compliance with superannuation guarantee obligations. This is not an opinion; it is a fact. This is not just something that Labor says about this issue. The government's own auditor, the Australian National Audit Office, found in 2015—earlier this year—that between 11 and 20 per cent of employers could be noncompliant with their SG obligations. The Australian Taxation Office described noncompliance with super guarantee obligations as 'endemic'. I congratulate Cbus for the research they have done on this issue, which has put the serious problem we have with compliance in Australia on the agenda. That research by Cbus said that Australians are losing $2.6 billion a year in super. That figure is growing at around five per cent per annum, with 6.8 per cent of the workforce—something like 690,000 Australian workers—affected in some way by unpaid superannuation.

But, with all this evidence available to them, what is this government's response? On being elevated to the cabinet and given this task, the new Assistant Treasurer gathered her staff and the officials around the table. She was presented with all the evidence about noncompliance with super obligations. She was told about 690,000 workers being dudded, about the $2.6 billion in super that people are missing out on every year and about the growth rate of this problem. She was told that it is not just a big problem now but a growing problem. And what is this government's top priority? It is to weaken the penalties imposed on employers who do not pay their super on time.

This is not made up; it is not a joke; it is a problem. It is a problem which would be wilfully and intentionally exacerbated by a stupid, badly-motivated policy change. Incredibly, on this legislation, when the Assistant Treasurer was asked about this issue, she said that the government's priority is improving super compliance. They are taking people for mugs. Their actions in this area remind me of that saying, 'Things are never so bad they can't be made worse.' That saying applies to this situation with the noncompliance of super. There is only one possible outcome from the changes that the government is proposing in this chamber: to make it easier for employers to dodge their obligation to pay fair super on time.

As I said, it speaks volumes about this government that amongst its highest priorities in our super system—a super system which is the envy of the world, but still imperfect—is to make it easier for people to dodge their super guarantee obligations to their workers. It is insulting enough to Australian working people that their government considers fair payment of super, as I said, as 'red tape' to be discarded with the commas and hyphens of the government's repeal day farce.

The Assistant Treasurer added insult to injury when, four days after this legislation to lower the penalties was introduced, she said in the Fairfax papers, 'The government is focused on making sure employees get super guarantee payments.' The Assistant Treasurer should come into this place and fess up that the intention of schedule 1 of this bill is actually the opposite to what she has said publicly. The effect of this bill would be to make a bad problem with super compliance worse. The bill will make it easier for employers to flout their superannuation guarantee obligations.

The Assistant Treasurer also claims, again dishonestly, that the changes in her bill are 'specific to the period in which penalty interest is charged'—again, wrong. The fact is that her legislation not only changes the interest calculation, as she has stated; it has far more substantial and wide-ranging effects, which will make it easier for employers to pay super late. The Assistant Treasurer really should know this. Embarrassingly for her, unfortunately, it has not been her only gaffe.

The Assistant Treasurer is so distracted by her ideological obsessions against representative superannuation boards that she cannot even get the basic facts straight right across the superannuation system. For example, when asked about tax breaks at the top end of the superannuation system, the Assistant Treasurer said:

This idea that people can amass multi-millions of dollars in their superannuation funds is just simply not correct, it's simply not correct to say that.

Figures published by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, ASFA, in April this year reveal how completely wrong she was in making that statement. More than 200,000 people have superannuation balances in excess of $1 million. Half of those—100,000 of those—have more than $2 million in superannuation, and there are 475 people with account balances over $10 million. Remember, this Assistant Treasurer said it was not possible to accumulate millions of dollars, despite the overwhelming evidence that thousands and thousands of Australians have done so. It is not too much to ask the Assistant Treasurer to be across very basic details like this. She should spend more time getting across the details of her portfolio and less time on ideological rants which do nothing to improve the super system in this country.

Facts matter in this debate, and fund members—Australian workers—matter most; they matter above all. What everyone needs to understand—particularly those opposite, who are about to vote for these changes which will make it less likely that people will get their super on time—is that, where employers do not pay adequate SG contributions to an employee's nominated fund on time, they may be liable for a superannuation guarantee charge. The SG charge currently consists of the amount of superannuation not contributed, which is called the shortfall; an interest component, which is currently 10 per cent a year; and an administrative fee of $20 per employee per quarter.

This bill lowers the base of the calculation of the SG charge; decreases the period over which the interest is calculated, moving the start date from the start of the quarter to the end of the quarter plus 28 days, and moving the end date from the date of lodging SG statement to date of payment; and removes the $20 administrative fee, replacing it with the tax office general interest charge, which would be substantially lower in most cases. The Assistant Treasurer should come clean and admit that her legislation—the legislation that everyone on the other side of the House supports—will make it easier for bosses to avoid paying super on time. It will not improve compliance, as she claims, but it will make a big and growing problem in our economy much worse.

Labor has a strong record of making it easier for small businesses to meet their SG obligations. We set up the Small Business Superannuation Clearing House in 2010, which is a free one-stop facility for small businesses to pay their super. This is how you get superannuation right for the small business sector in this economy: you make it easier for them to make their payment. You do not make it easier for them to dodge their payment, which is the effect of this bill. Unlike those opposite, Labor does not believe that workers receiving fair super on time amounts to 'red tape'. I say again: Australian workers deserve to be paid superannuation contributions correctly and on time. That is why Labor is not able to support the bill as long as it includes schedule 1. We have sought to move an amendment to this bill to remove the weakening of the superannuation guarantee charge. I have moved:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"the House declines to give the Bill a second reading because the Bill contains provisions which make it easier for employers to flout their superannuation guarantee obligations, and notes that this is yet another attempt by the Government to undermine Australia's superannuation system".

I will not go through all the other ways that the government is undermining super in this country—we do not have all day. But I think it is well known to members—it is certainly well known in my community and around the country—that the government is abolishing the low-income superannuation contribution, which will impact 3.6 million Australians, 2.2 million of whom are women. It is well known in the community that, over and over again, the government has frozen the increase in the superannuation guarantee. The Treasurer and the Assistant Treasurer have been going around the country to these conferences saying, 'We really care about the gender gap in superannuation; we really care about adequacy,' and these sorts of things. I urge the Australian people to remember and to judge the government not just on their words but especially on their deeds. When it comes to superannuation, their record is on the table. The policy of the Abbott prime ministership and the Turnbull prime ministership is indistinguishable, with the abolition of the low-income super contribution and the freezing of growth in the superannuation guarantee.

That is the first schedule of the four schedules in this bill. Schedules 2, 3 and 4 contain what we consider to be uncontroversial measures or measures that we support. There is one which makes it easier for people with terminal medical conditions to access superannuation, one to remove duplication in dealing with unclaimed superannuation, one that modifies 'in receivership' disclosure rules and one that repeals inoperative acts and provisions of the taxation law. We have no problem with those. We do not intend to oppose schedules 2, 3 and 4. Our problem is with the first schedule, which will do so much damage to the superannuation balances of Australian workers.

It is our view that the government should not hold hostage those measures for the terminally ill to these other measures about the non-payment on time of superannuation. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the government to try and sneak through nasty provisions like schedule 1 in this legislation by burying them amidst all the meaningless changes in punctuation—commas and all of that. They have done it before. They did it when they attacked the cleaners in this building on one of the earlier repeal-day farces. They got out the red pen to make lots of the sub-editing changes to the legislation, while at the same time they hoped no-one would notice that they were attacking the cleaners in this building. That they would do that says it all really about this government's approach. Here is another repeal day with all this fanfare, all this spin and all this rubbish—at the end of the day, it is mostly punctuation changes to bills with something nasty snuck through. We are seeing that again on this particular repeal day.

Each of the four so-called repeal days in the life of this government is more pathetic than the previous one. Given that this is a repeal day bill, it is worth reminding ourselves that, amidst all the fanfare and all the noise, we have had three sets of bills that have totalled $56.8 million in regulatory savings, compared to the billions that are claimed. We have had the repeal of the law related to the registration of mules for Defence purposes; we have had the repeal of the law relating to state navies; we have had changes from e-mail to email and from facsimile to fax. We have had the removal of 40 hyphens, two commas and one inverted comma; we have had two full stops changed to semicolons, and one semicolon changed to a full stop. We have inserted one new full stop, one colon, one hyphen and one comma.

Some of this would be funny, were there not buried amidst all the trivia and sub-editing some genuinely damaging provisions like the one we are debating today. This bill is a sneak attack on working Australians and the superannuation balances they need to retire with dignity. Burying it among these other provisions does not make it any less damaging. It is a badly-motivated ideological change on super system, when there are so many other areas that need attention. Worst of all, as a piece of legislation, it will take a worrying and growing problem with super noncompliance and make it worse by weakening the penalties for employers who do the wrong thing. When 690,000 Australians are missing out on billions of dollars in the superannuation they are entitled to by law—the super they need and deserve—this is not good enough.

If the government wants to fight over the fair payment of super to workers, it can have one. If it wants is to go right around the country explaining to 690,000 Australian workers that it does not support the fair payment on time of the superannuation obligations, then, fine, we will do that. The member for Lalor will do that; I will do that. I will go next door to the electorate of Forde and point out to voters there that the member for Forde wants to weaken the penalties for employers who do not pay superannuation to their employees on time. We will point that out.

But there is a better way forward, before we get to that. The parliament should support my amendment so that we can defeat schedule 1 but pass the other worthy amendments. We do have the opportunity to spare Australian workers a big problem that is getting worse—a problem that will be made much worse by the government's attempts to weaken the penalties on those who do the wrong thing.


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