Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day 2015) Bill 2015; Second Reading
I support the amendment moved by the member for Rankin to the motion that the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day 2015) Bill 2015 be now read a second time. As was so clearly outlined by the member for Forde, this legislation is something that Australians should be worried about—hence our moving the amendment. Whenever you hear a member of the government use the term 'simplification', it is cause for worry if you are an Australian worker. 'Simplification' in this place is code for cutting back protections for workers, and it has been for some time. I note the member for Forde suggested that the legislation as it stands, without the amendment, would make penalties more commensurate with the breach. That is like suggesting: 'This is not a serious problem, so we will lessen the penalty for those who breach this.' I know workers in Australia who are in the position right now where they have not had their superannuation paid by their employer, and they would not consider a lessening of the penalty to be anything but unfair.
The government is trying to reduce the financial penalties for employers caught out not doing the right thing—not paying super and not meeting their obligations under the superannuation guarantee. The government has decided to frame this as 'fighting red tape'—extraordinary. It is extraordinary what the term 'red tape' has come to mean to this government, and I will talk about that a little later. The essence of this bill is really important. Noncompliance in superannuation payment is a huge problem, and this bill seeks to make it easier for employers to shirk their obligations. What possible benefit is there in reducing the penalties to, effectively, zero on employers who do not meet their super obligation to their workers? What benefit could there possibly be in this?
This government has warped priorities, and this piece of legislation demonstrates that. They have warped priorities when it comes to superannuation. It is yet another attempt to undermine Australia's superannuation system, and we have been down this road before. We have a government who cut the low income superannuation contribution. And who did that hurt, mostly? It hurt women, mostly.
There is a theme here with this government and women. We know that from the 2014 budget where, for the first time in years, the Office for Women did not review that budget—did not put a ruler over that budget to check its impacts on women. Similarly, the low income superannuation contribution being scrapped was not looked at in terms of its impact on women until after it was determined by this government to be good policy. And yet again, with the superannuation guarantee and the changes that are before us, it will be low income earners who are most likely going to be affected by this change, because it is low income earners who are most often the victims in a scenario where an employer shirks their responsibilities and does not pay that superannuation.
We know that this is a government that wants to act to hurt low and middle income earners, while at the same time protecting high income superannuants. We know that they have not seen any legislation on superannuation that they would not seek to change. Some of those changes are extraordinary: they are seeking to change governance arrangements—fiddling with industry superannuation, even though they are the best performing superannuation products.
Research by Cbus has found that Australians are losing $2.6 billion in superannuation annually, and that that figure is growing at around five per cent per annum. We have identified that there is a problem and we have identified that it is costing $2.6 billion in super for what will probably be low income earners and that it is growing at a rate of five per cent per annum. So, with penalties in place, it is growing. This government thinks it is a good idea, therefore, to remove the penalties, because they would like to see it grow. One would assume from their actions that they think growth in this area is an important thing.
This legislation seeks to hurt workers—6.8 per cent of the workforce or around 690,000 Australians are affected by unpaid superannuation. This is not a small thing. This is not a trivial thing. It is this year's nasty in the Repeal Day pack. As we said, amongst the commas and misplaced parentheses, they are sneaking this one through, thinking that those on this side might not be alive to changes in superannuation. Again we have demonstrated that there we are always alive to this government's tricks and the secret nasties they put in the name of repeal.
In 2015 the Australian National Audit Office found that as many as 11 to 20 per cent of employers could be noncompliant with their superannuation guarantee obligations. The ATO describes noncompliance with superannuation guarantee obligations as 'endemic'. As a school teacher and a school principal in a former life, if a problem, such as wagging school, was endemic then the last thing I would do would be to reduce the penalties; I would increase the penalties to see if I could get people to be compliant. But not this government—it seeks to reduce the penalties for those people doing the wrong thing.
Australian workers deserve to be paid superannuation contributions correctly and on time. It is insulting enough that the government considers on-time payment of superannuation as red tape to be repealed. It says it all about this government, and it says it all about this new Prime Minister that we have yet another change in this chamber that will impact negatively on workers and yet another change being introduced to superannuation—this time under Prime Minister Turnbull, showing once again that they may have changed their leader but they have not changed the sentiment and they have not changed the intent of this government. We have a government that considers fair payment of super as 'red tape', to be discarded along with all those other things in their red tape repeal days. Many people are affected each year by the late payment or nonpayment of their superannuation guarantee payments, and it affects up to 20 per cent of employers. And this government thinks that that is something that they should bring into this House, sneak into their repeal day, and change things.
We know what 'red tape' means. Although 'simplification' in this place is code for 'be careful, workers', 'red tape' is code for fairness and safety. On one of the earlier repeal days, I heard a speech about early childhood education where educators doing paperwork, which is actually planning for the learning of the children in their care, was described in this place as 'red tape'. So we on this side are now very suspicious of repeal days and very suspicious whenever this government describes something as 'red tape'.
We need to stop and think. Australians make assumptions that things that exist exist to make life fairer. We are the nation of the fair go, so they assume that WorkCover, Fair Work Australia and the superannuation guarantee mean that there are things in place that will protect them.
I suggest that, over the Christmas holidays, members opposite go and find people in their electorates and talk to them about those assumptions—for example, find someone who is chasing their superannuation because it has not been paid appropriately. Today, The Age highlighted a case where it had taken six months for someone to recoup unpaid superannuation—six months. As reported by The Age:
Dan Warne thinks it is 'ridiculous and counter-intuitive' that the federal government has moved to reduce the penalties on employers that don't pay superannuation to effectively zero.
This man has faced this issue. The article says:
After six months of 'hassling', the employer eventually coughed up. But it was an 'unpleasant process' and Warne was shocked at how little power he had to force the company to do the right thing.
That is the reality on the ground—that is the reality on the ground when there are penalties in place. What will the reality on the ground be without any penalties in place, without anything to guarantee that superannuation is paid to Australian workers?
The Assistant Treasurer added insult to injury when, four days after introducing the legislation to lower penalties for noncompliance, she said, as reported in the Fairfax papers:
The government is focused on making sure employees get their superannuation guarantee payments …
We just saw the member for Forde look straight into the camera, after seven minutes of defending this legislation and not supporting the proposed amendment, and tell employers that it is their obligation to pay. Remove the penalties and make a speech; that will make sure Australians get their superannuation! That is even though on the ground now that is not the case. That is not what is happening. The reality is that this bill will make it easier for employers to flout their superannuation guarantee obligations.
The Assistant Treasurer also claims that the changes in her Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day 2015) Bill 'are specific to the period in which penalty interest is charged'. The fact is that her legislation not only changes the interest calculation, as she has stated; it also decreases the base of the penalty calculation and entirely repeals the additional superannuation guarantee charge penalty of $20 per employer per quarter, as the bill's explanatory memorandum makes clear. The Assistant Treasurer should come clean and admit that her legislation will make it easier for bosses to avoid paying superannuation on time, not improve compliance, which she claims is the government's focus.
Schedule 1 of the bill, as I said, is the hidden nasty amongst the commas and the misplaced parentheses. Like the attack on pensioners, like the scrapping of the low-income superannuation contribution, this piece of legislation attacks workers.
Labor has a strong record of making it easier for small businesses to meet their superannuation guarantee obligations, including setting up the Small Business Superannuation Clearing House in 2010, which is a free, one-stop facility for small businesses to pay their super. But, unlike the government, Labor does not believe that workers receiving fair super on time amounts to 'red tape'. Australian workers deserve to have their superannuation contributions paid correctly and on time. They do not deserve to have to spend six months going through what has been described as 'an awful process' to recoup what is rightfully theirs. They deserve to be paid their superannuation. They deserve it because they deserve a decent retirement. This government's actions across its first two years have been damaging to people's superannuation, particularly that of low- and middle-income owners.
The Assistant Treasurer should not hold the good measure of payment of super to people with terminal medical conditions hostage to the passage of these unfair superannuation guarantee charge measures. Again it is typical of this government to have a carrot and a stick in the same piece of legislation.
I strongly support the amendment moved by Dr Chalmers, the member for Rankin, that would see this section of the bill, schedule 1, removed. Let the good things this government wants to do go through this House by removing the hidden nasty in its repeal day legislation which we are becoming so accustomed to going through with a fine-toothed comb to find in such legislation. Australian workers deserve a government that cares about them. Australians deserve a government that will protect their entitlements. Australians deserve a government that will penalise people who do not follow the rules and support people who get up early and go to work and do follow the rules every day of their lives.
I commend the amendment to this House.