House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024


Superannuation (Objective) Bill 2023; Second Reading

2:24 pm

Photo of Zoe DanielZoe Daniel (Goldstein, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

Superannuation is a manifestation of our nation's commitment to the principles of its founding: a fair go, secure quality of life and a dignified retirement for all Australians. The program was designed with a vision that every Australian, after a lifetime of contributing to the fabric of our society, could look forward to their retirement with confidence. It's a promise from the present to the future, a modern safeguard against the human uncertainties of old age.

The value of our superannuation program extends beyond individual security; it's also about societal stability and economic foresight. By ensuring our citizens have adequate funds in retirement, we're not only safeguarding their individual futures but also securing the health of our economy. We're enabling more people to manage their own retirement in the way they wish, with sufficient resources to do so. It provides them with choice. At the same time, we're reducing pressure on the budget by ensuring that fewer retirees have to resort to the pension.

Superannuation has a stabilising effect on financial markets, enables public spending elsewhere and provides a massive pool of investment capital for the nation. This pool is the fourth-largest holder of pension fund assets in the world, now amounting to at least $3.5 trillion, and provides Australia with influence and leverage in international capital markets.

Today, the House has the opportunity to codify the principles of our superannuation system, and by extension many of the underlying principles of our national identity, into law. I will vote to take this opportunity to help to entrench a dignified retirement for all living Australians now and those to come.

This action is necessary because the integrity of Australia's superannuation system is not futureproof. We've seen clear intent from governments of the very recent past to get hooked on the idea of encouraging the opportunistic withdrawal of savings in superannuation accounts, often to pay for overt policy failures. Housing supply and the resulting lack of affordability is one example, and I'll come back to it in a moment.

The authorisation of the early release of superannuation savings during the COVID-19 pandemic was another example. In 2020, up to three million Australians withdrew a total of $38 billion from their super balances early. Research by Tristram Sainsbury at the Australian National University, among others, found that an Australian who withdrew $10,000, the maximum permitted, may well have lost $120,000 by the time they reach retirement. The evidence is that those aged between 25 and 35 who withdrew early reduced their balance by fully 51 per cent. It is money gone, reducing what will be available to them during retirement and therefore the opportunities available to them later in life.

The implications of this policy will resonate into the future, but it also had an immediate, observable social impact. There's a strong correlation between those Australians most likely to access their superannuation early and financial disadvantage. Those on lower incomes who withdrew some of their super were more likely, on average, to increase their spending on gambling, for example.

On housing, homeownership is a persistent and worsening policy challenge for Australia—one that is also central to our national identity. House prices have soared to record highs. But accessing superannuation to solve this problem is not good governance. The former government's super home buyers scheme is another example of the seductive opportunism and indeed populism of policy of this nature. Evidence suggests that such a scheme would merely push up house prices, with the likely small balances accessed immediately chewed up and replaced with debt. It's also possible that such a scheme would limit the mobility of Australians who accessed it, discouraging them from moving away for a new job or into a bigger dwelling to start a family, for example.

We also know that superannuation provides security for women and drawing on it early exacerbates financial fault lines that cut across genders. Across every age group, men consistently have considerably more in their superannuation savings balances. Early access to super during the pandemic therefore widened the retirement savings gap between men and women. As a result, more women will retire with less security, more women will retire with less independence and more women have a less certain future. These are the social and structural impacts of policy which undermines our superannuation system, and I will vote to ensure that this mistake will not be repeated.

I would add very clearly that this policy was the brainchild of my predecessor, the former member for Goldstein. I opposed it before the 2022 election for the reasons that I have just outlined, and I continue to wholeheartedly oppose it now. Structural housing policy failures by successive governments, state and federal, should not be handballed to holders of limited superannuation in the form of the disastrous idea of encouraging people to deplete their retirement savings. It's far better to encourage and foster additional, voluntary super contributions, plus investment earnings on the deposited amount, which can be later withdrawn to help you pay for your first home. The money you contribute to your super grows based on the super investment mix you've chosen. That I agree with, and it should be extended, too, with women being allowed to make extra contributions to top up their super without a tax penalty when they've spent time out of the workforce. That's something that I'm working on with the Treasurer.

This bill requires all new legislation presented to parliament and all new regulations developed by the executive branch to provide a statement of compatibility to explain how the item is compatible with the principles and social objectives of superannuation. This is a sensible and modest provision to safeguard both the material circumstances of Australians in their retirement and the basic founding pillars of our social fabric, and for this reason I will vote for this bill.


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