Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Treasury Laws Amendment (Your Future, Your Super) Bill 2021; Second Reading
Thank you, Deputy Speaker Vasta. It's such a privilege to serve alongside you in Brisbane, I must say.
Australia's retirement income system is world class. We are ranked third on the Mercer global pension index behind the Netherlands and Denmark. Our success is credited to our three-pillar system made of up of the age pension, voluntary savings and our universal compulsory superannuation system. For most Australians, our superannuation system is the difference between retiring in poverty and retiring comfortably with dignity. It is the difference between being able to afford medication and not being able to. It is the difference between being able to use the heater in your own house in winter and having to rug up in blankets and coats.
The policy decisions that we make today will have a far-reaching impact on what retirement looks like for all hardworking Australians, because a strong superannuation system also means a strong economy. It draws strength from years of stable policy settings that allow trustees to invest in the long term. As we navigate the worse economic recession Australia has seen in a century, our superannuation system can be used as a tool to create financial stability in the market and provide some of the infrastructure investment we desperately need to create jobs. Just look at the benefits superannuation investment has provided in and around my electorate of Lilley, and, may I note, your electorate of Bonner, Deputy Speaker.
Brisbane Airport and the Port of Brisbane are both major infrastructure assets of AustralianSuper. Today the Port of Brisbane supports 4,000 local jobs, and the Brisbane Airport, in my electorate of Lilley, supports nearly 24,000 jobs, including 6,600 aviation jobs specifically. That is, together, 30,000 local jobs which have benefited from the infrastructure investment from superannuation funds. It is nation-building infrastructure, like the Brisbane Airport, like the Port of Brisbane, that this bill hinders.
This bill not only creates instability by weakening the sector; it undermines the system's ability to contribute to our economic recovery. Superannuation is a proud Labor legacy, and we want to make sure that the system is performing in the interests of its members. There is definite room for improvement in our superannuation system. No-one contests that. Gender parity in retirement savings is a significant problem which threatens the economic security of Australian women and sees too many Australian women retire in poverty. The average Queensland woman has almost $55,000 less in superannuation than her male counterpart at retirement. Women over the age of 55 are becoming the fastest-growing cohort of homeless Australians.
There are a few contributing factors to this which the federal government could be addressing. Women are still paid less than men, and in turn that is reflected in their super contributions. Women are also more likely to be employed in casual work and have multiple jobs. This was a barrier until recently, because they had to earn over $450 a week at each job to be entitled to super from each employer, instead of having their overall income for the week considered. Women, on average, spend 12 years less in the full-time workforce than men do, which has a dramatic impact on their super balance. Paying superannuation during paid parental leave could help bridge this gap.
The reality is: this bill, as written, will not implement any of these policy initiatives and it will not deliver better outcomes for Australian superannuation members. In fact, the evidence provided to the Senate inquiry into this bill makes it clear that the government's proposed approach to superannuation will do the exact opposite. This bill will damage retirement outcomes for ordinary Australians and subject our superannuation system, the pride of our country, to considerable risk.
Members before me have highlighted a number of flaws in the design of the stapling mechanism drafted to this bill. Employers will only have two months leeway before they're required to comply with the proposed stapling mechanism. There is no mechanism to ensure that the fund a member is stapled to is a high-performing fund. Workers in high-risk industries may miss out on insurance provisions tailored to their industry, meaning they may not qualify for payments in the event of death or total and permanent disability, a consequence which is extremely concerning to me as a former workers compensation lawyer who saw people injured in a way where they would benefit from those payments every single day.
But there are two key features of this bill that we would like to focus on with our remaining time: the performance mechanism and the best financial interests test. Before that, let me address how this affects us within the current COVID-19 crisis. The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for vision and nation-changing reform that would allow ordinary Australian workers to share in the benefits of success which have recently been handed to the private sector. Week after week, Northside families are struggling to get ahead amid unrelenting underemployment, high unemployment and weak wage growth. Housing affordability is becoming more and more out of reach for ordinary workers, and all the government can offer is policy patchwork and piecemeal interventions that will just end up inflating property prices. We have almost 50 per cent less apprentices in my electorate of Lilley than when the LNP came to power eight long years ago. That is 1,823 high-skilled jobs on the Northside of Brisbane gone. And we still don't have a real, tangible plan to help elderly Australians who are being neglected in our broken private aged-care system.
Instead of focusing on the systemic issues that impact the lives of our constituents every single day, the Morrison government is like a dog chasing its tail, continuing its obsessive ideological attacks on super. We should be in this place focusing our energy and working together to rewrite the rules for the betterment of the people that we represent. We should be making sure that any future economic growth that follows the pandemic is both inclusive and sustainable.
It is time the Morrison government steered the market towards fairer outcomes for all, not just for shareholders and for their corporate interests. Workers in high-risk industries may miss out on insurance provisions tailored to their industry, meaning they may not qualify for payments in the event of death or total permanent disability. Section 117A of this bill delegates significant power to the Treasurer to personally override an investment decision or payment decision made by a superannuation trustee. This power is not subject to any sort of test or oversight.