House debates

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Matters of Public Importance


3:45 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Technology and the Future of Work) Share this | Hansard source

I was going to open by saying something quite complimentary about some of the comments that were made there, but, really, coming into this House and accusing members of the opposition of trying to hold Australians down and saying we're a disgrace—can we just elevate the standard a little bit in here? We're trying to debate something that's actually quite serious. What I wanted to say about the member opposite's speech was that you could have blown me over with a feather there because he actually had something good and something positive to say about our retirement savings system. I think he missed the memo that went to the member for Mackellar and that went to Senator Andrew Bragg in the other place and that goes frequently to the member for Goldstein, who do nothing other than try to tear this system down.

It's time to add a bit of perspective and a few facts to the discussion about our superannuation system. The truth is that this system works. It is, in fact, one of the systems around the world that is performing incredibly well when we compare ourselves to other countries. Millions of Australians have retired into more comfort because of this system, and there are millions more who are working today who will live a better retirement because of this system.

The government initiated the Retirement income review and, of course, we always knew that part of this would be some kind of battering ram to try to get some reform going. That's been very much idolised by people on the other side—knocking off the super guarantee and other types of changes that they want to see which will inevitably leave people worse off in their retirement. But what did the Retirement income review actually tell us about the system? It told us that the system works. This is the first line of the review:

… the Australian retirement income system is effective, sound and its costs are broadly sustainable.

How this government is using that review as an opportunity to try to trash the system and to stop the increases that are due to Australians is just totally, clearly and obviously ideological.

The member opposite talked about his great support for the system. I have to say that, if members opposite truly believe that, they have a very odd way of showing their support for a system. This is a system that has been undermined from every direction in the last almost eight years that the government has been in office. The clearest example here is this continuous deferral of the increase to the superannuation guarantee. The member for Whitlam next to me here gave a really eloquent description of the unfairness of this system. Why should members of parliament who sit in this House get paid 15 per cent superannuation and that's good enough for us and yet ordinary Australians get 9½ per cent? It is just completely wrong.

We know that this is important to Australians. If it weren't, then the government wouldn't have promised that they would increase the superannuation guarantee—a promise that it very much looks like they are going to break. We saw exactly the same thing in 2014, when Tony Abbott promised. He promised us a lot of things, but one of those promises was that the increase to the superannuation guarantee would go ahead. And—lo and behold!—come 2014, he changed his mind and dudded Australians out of the billions of dollars they would have earned for their superannuation retirement accounts during that period of time.

We get told by the government that this is going to lead to some huge wage rise because Australians are not going to get the superannuation guarantee that they deserve. That is absolute hogwash. We have a real-life example of this, because that's what Tony Abbott promised us in 2014—that it would be a great period for wages. What happened when the superannuation guarantee was deferred was that it led to the lowest wages growth that we've ever seen in Australian history—so much so that, in the almost eight-year life of this government, the average Australian has seen their living standards go down because wages have been so low. That's the consequence we've seen.

It's incredibly unfair. What we know is that, in the last decade, labour productivity has actually increased 10 percentage points. Yet workers have not seen any benefit from that. The truth is that we are going into a period where the labour market is going to be in quite a difficult position. We're going to have high unemployment for a long time. We're going to have high underemployment for a long time. The honest truth is that Australian workers are going to struggle in this environment to get any type of real wage increase. For many of them, an increase to their super guarantee is the best chance they've got of seeing their standard of living improve in some way throughout this difficult period.

I've talked a little bit about the deferral of the increase to the super guarantee, but it's just one of the many creative ways the government has come up with over this last period to try to undermine the system. It's very frustrating because there are issues with this system, and the one I point to is women retiring with about half as much superannuation as men. Instead of the government trying to fix these real problems, it's a constant ideological battle that surely doesn't befit a parliament as good as this one. (Time expired)


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